I didn’t know what to do with Charlie’s Angels, the most recent in the franchise, which isn’t a reboot, but more of a continuation of the story which began in the 1970s. While the trailer didn’t entice me, I both love the installments from the 2000s and the film’s writer-director Elizabeth Banks. So I put my hesitation aside and settled in for some fun.
And while I definitely laughed and found the last two acts of the film on the stronger side, Charlie’s Angels is a true mixed bag, uneven at times, hilarious at others while still having moments that fall a little flat. As an action-comedy, Charlie’s Angels stars Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska as the new generation of Angels of the Townsend Agency. Additionally, it also introduces the Bosleys, Charlie Townsend’s assistants that perfectly works as a code name while John Bosley (Patrick Stewart) retires and we see how large the organization has become.
The film opens with Stewart’s Sabina on a mission, featured in the trailer. There she seduces and subdues Australian Johny (Chris Pang) with the help of Balinksa’s Jane and other Angels. Then, the tone of the film switches, moving Scott’s Elena into the center. Using an out of place montage of young women and girls to run the movie’s title before finding its narrative. A systems engineer, Elena blows the whistle on the dangers of the technology she’s developing right before launch. After having her report buried, she turns to the Angels and starts an adventure across the globe.
In equal parts espionage, costume changes, bad CG action sequences, and perfect sexual camp, the adventure is one that has wings. The plot is predictable but the charm of the many character performances keeps you engaged. While each Angel has their defined tropes, Stewart is the one who excels in her role as the super-rich troublemaker who is also a skilled fighter, even if she’s a bit spacey.
Sabina is hilarious, injecting humor into every scene that she’s in. From her fashion and body movements to one-liners, Sabina is the stand out of the three main Angels. Sabina is sexual, tough, and has the best fashion sense of the group. Her leather jackets and jockey fashions are characters in their own right. This doesn’t mean that Jane and Elena aren’t good, they are, but their characters bring less overt camp to their performances, keeping them toned down compared to Stewart for two-thirds of the film. While the opening of the film is rough, the last two-thirds find their footing and they’re a solid delight.
That said, the main trio sum up the larger issues with the film. While Banks’ screenplay and direction works in overtly comedic moments, she isn’t able to exaggerate the action pieces of Charlie’s Angels enough to facilitate the signature Angel campy style. This is nowhere truer than the fight choreography that tries to be solid action and yet is filled with too many cuts to be that. The fight scene editing is distracting, with gags and moments that could be good, Banks never lets a fight scene be fluid to see what is happen. A bottle breaks and instead of showing the fighter use it, it cuts to the result.
Now, I didn’t expect John Wick 3 when I walked into the theater, but I did expect the 2000s Charlie’s Angel comedic and campy stylized fighting, a style embraced the wirework and fun that the actresses could bring. Instead, we so many cuts that I got dizzy looking at some of them. Instead of leaning in, the film pulls back, and because it pulls back, it winds up uneven.
The saving moments of the film, where camp excels is also what makes the film unconnected. That said, the way that Charlie’s Angels uses sexual camp is delightful. From Sabina tying up Australian Johny and him enjoying every minute to Jonathan Tucker‘s assassin character Hodak putting a collar on Elena and leading her into a room is sexy and well-done. Additionally, the sexy styling of Hodak in a suit just a little too small uses the female gaze in a great way.
Additionally, once the film finds its footing it really holds up to Charlie’s Angels’ legacy, even if its extremely rough getting there. Once the women are using their Charlie supplied gadgets and pulling of their heists and hits, it works, even outside the fighting. Their chemistry when tracking their targets is really good. In fact, the women themselves are great on-screen when they do more than shoehorned jokes.
Finally, the film is also fairly diverse. That being said, Luis Gerardo Méndez‘s role as Saint is the only Latinx character or actor featured prominently in the film which seems like a very large oversight given the purposeful scenes where Banks chooses to show close-ups of Angels operating to help our main trio. With a training facility based in Los Angeles, I find it hard to believe that Latinas aren’t Angels, but that’s a think piece for another day.
Overall, Charlie’s Angels is a film that feels detached from itself, unsure what it wants to be, but is saved by the character performances throughout it. The ending of the film leaves room for more sequels, but I hope those lean all the way into the absurd and the camp of the franchise instead of waffling between action movies and comedy instead of embodying both. The film’s cheekiness is enough to get its wings.
Charlie’s Angels is available nationwide on November 15th.
Charlie's Angels (2019)
Charlie’s Angels is a film that feels detached from itself, unsure what it wants to be, but is saved by the character performances throughout it. The ending of the film leaves room for more sequels, but I hope those lean all the way into the absurd and the camp of the franchise instead of waffling between action movie and comedy instead of embodying both. The film’s cheekiness is enough to get its wings.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.