Did you know that it has been 8 years since the last CHARLIE’S ANGEL relaunch? That it’s been twice that since ANGELS were on the big screen in FULL THROTTLE? There isn’t much point to these questions except I was struggling for an intro to the new film and I thought this was at least something interesting to note? Was I right? Who cares! Let’s talk the movie!
The Idea Behind CHARLIE’S ANGELS
You know the basics already. Very talented women who are also beautiful fight crimes with the help of someone called Bosley for a never seen figure known as Charlie.
In this case, our main women are Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska). They are attended to by a number of Bosleys including the soon-to-be retired John (Patrick Stewart), the Bosley of Paris, Edgar (Djimon Hounsou), and former angel turned Bosley Rebecca (Elizabeth Banks).
Their current mission concerns a computer programming/systems analyst Elena (Naomi Scott) who tried to warn her boss Peter Fleming (Nat Faxon) about flaws in the company’s new environmentally friendly source of power. Unwilling to tell the company’s owner Alex Brock (Sam Claflin) the truth, Fleming vaguely threatens her career. Unwilling to let the situation go, Elena turns to the Townsend Agency instead.
This puts her on the hit list of Mr. Hodak (Jonathan Tucker), a silent assassin with unknown motives. The Angels take her in even as it becomes increasingly clear someone in their midst is a traitor.
(Note: If you hate spoilers, avoid promotional images. One of the ones there pretty obviously gives away a twist.)
Writing CHARLIE’S ANGELS
The script, written by Elizabeth Banks from a script by David Auburn and Evan Spiliotopoulos, is the actor/director’s first effort at screenwriting. While not a bad screenplay, it is also not a particularly memorable one. Save for an exchange about the BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ, mostly the script gives the impression of things. For instance, it gives the sense of a sense of humor, but one cannot recall most jokes after exiting the cinema.
Another area the script vaguely waves to but never gives flesh or weight to is the sense of connection amongst the characters. While the actors might sell, say, the bond amongst the Angels, the script does not provide much textual information for how that relationships grows. They started kind of not liking each other and end up bonded for life. However, the screenplay does not really justify that evolution.
The script is more successful at setting up and guiding events. Despite being nearly two hours, the sense of movement rarely flags and even its draggiest bits are fairly short-lived. As with the humor, the slow parts feel like a bit of cotton candy. Light, sugary, and quickly disappearing. However, where it is something of demerit on the humor side, here it is to the film’s advantage. I can recall there were a couple of slower moments that felt unnecessary but already the specificity of them is fading. What remains is the feeling of a largely well-structured and organized screenplay.
Casting the Angels
Given my biases and my above reference, it is perhaps no surprise that I recommend K-Stew’s work on this film. As the Angel who is both messier in her attitude and presentation but also far less emotional, most of the comedic heavy lifted goes to her. Without strong laugh lines, she mostly sells it on attitude. For a performer often regarded as a bit of sour and distant presence on-screen, she finds a silly affable mode. It gives the whole vehicle an appealing sense of bounce and play.
Ella Balinska’s Angel is the stoic one. As a result, she has to take the journey from “needs no one” to team player and being capable of emotion. It’s not necessarily a fun role to play, but Balinska acquits herself nicely. I look forward to seeing her in something soon that gives her something a little less cliché to sink her teeth into.
Naomi Scott probably gets the biggest range to play but as noted above, the script does not really take her from start to finish on the journey. She rings some fun out of being the naïve newbie and the ready to go Angel but the screenplay does not give her the kind of material to let her show the process.
Casting the Rest of the Callsheet
Elizabeth Banks does a nice job here, as in PITCH PERFECT 2, of taking on a rather small part that still gives her something to work with. She is not taxing herself, I don’t think, but the moments where the script give her something to do, she more than rises to the occasion.
There is too little of both Patrick Steward and Djimon Hounsou. There are story reasons for both, but still. Would’ve loved a bit more.
Jonathan Tucker cuts an imposing figure as the bad guy, the only really intimidating figure on-screen for most of the movie.
Luis Gerardo Méndez’s Saint, the healer of the Angels, never really came together for me. I can’t decide if he is intended as a sort of joke on natural healings or we are meant to take him seriously. The script needed to be sharper about him or give him something a bit more in-depth.
Chris Pang, Nat Faxon, and Sam Claflin all play gradients of dumb boys too hopped up on their egos to realize how little they deserve their success. I liked each performance, but perhaps just touch less than the movie was going for.
Last, and least, Noah Centineo seems like a character who’s biggest moments ended up on the cutting room floor. It’s a shame, too. His brief flirtations with Balinska have nicely underplayed energy with sweet awkwardness.
Directing CHARLIE’S ANGELS
The film struggles with the actual fight scenes, a not entirely unusual issue for Hollywood action pictures these days. The action moments where the camera eschews close-ups are probably the film’s best. An overhead shot, for instance, captures a café fight. We watch as the tables are kicked, pushed, and tossed like a violent version of Tetris. There is more zing and appreciation for stunt work there than the multiple tight shots of tumbles and kicks that flash by in quick cuts.
Banks, largely, is a competent director who does surprisingly well with a fairly action heavy movie. This is only her second feature. However, it seems like she paid attention during her time acting in movies like the HUNGER GAMES Quadrology, and POWER RANGERS.
She has developed one sort of signature tic. She employed it in PITCH PERFECT 2 and here with even higher frequency. It is the kind of shot that starts on people’s feet — adorned here, typically, in expensive heels — lingers there for a few beats, and then scans up the person’s full body as they stride into a situation dramatically.
That’s A Wrap
I largely have steered clear of comparing this film to its previous ANGELS. Here though I think it might help to frame my overall feelings. While not as breezy or as stylish as the early 2000’s installments, this one is still fun. Moreover, it tends to wear its feminism with a little more comfort than previous incarnations. It was rarely didactic after the first scene, one in which Kristen Stewart gamely tries to make a speech about women’s equality feel like both a flirtation and a mocking sneer in the face of a clueless man. Instead, it subscribes to more of a “show not tell” approach. It also resists the kind of self-effacing the 2000’s movies seemed to repeatedly deployed. Those movies seemed bent on puncturing their own women empowerment message. This version just lets it ride.
I do wonder about its placement here in early November. It feels like the kind of movie that would have been a nice multiplex draw in, say, late July. Fun enough not to tax audiences too strongly, but smart enough to offer something more than just an air conditioned place to hide from the sun