In the interest of due diligence, I recently reread my review from 2000 of the first big-screen “Charlie’s Angels.” I opened that appraisal with a fast takedown and a sincerely posed question: “Of course, it’s terrible -but did it have to be this bad?”Two decades later, I hopefully watched the new big-screen version of “Charlie’s Angels,” which turns out to be another egregious stinker. Perhaps that isn’t a surprise, though it serves as another reminder that you can’t overturn the master’s house simply by rearranging the furniture. You need to burn the whole thing down.
There was a disastrous video game in there somewhere, and a short-lived second TV series in 2011. And now, because nothing ever goes away anymore, the Angels are back on the big screen, and in true 2019 fashion, they’ve been given a girl-power makeover so desultory that you could fill out a bingo card with it.. Kristen Stewart kicks the film off by declaring to the camera that “I think women can do anything,” a sentiment that, like the random montage of women around the world doing things that follows shortly after, is not actually explored beyond its potential to be stuck on a T-shirt. The basic idea of Charlie’s Angels remains the same — three women fight crime as part of a private organisation owned by the mysterious figure of the title, one who’s only ever heard on speakerphone. But what’s so depressing about the new film is that the most radical thing it can think to do to update this concept is to hint that Charlie has actually, this whole time, been a lady.
In theory, it could have worked: it is written and directed by Elizabeth Banks who is no slouch at comedy, and who takes an acting role herself. But, from the very first, this Charlie’s Angels is all about action and pointless international location work, without the necessary lightness and the solvent of fun. Part of the problem is that Stewart is so much more famous than her co-stars, and more charismatic, but she herself is not very well cast or directed. Patrick Stewart now plays Bosley, and, to put it delicately, it seems as if he has his mind on other things.
And so it goes on. The most depressing part of Charlie’s Angels is that the feminist agenda it trumpets in so many clumsy speeches is drowned out by the Angels’ own incompetence. Rather than having a story, the film has a string of rote action sequences, and each of these sequences goes the same way: Bosley tells the Angels where the villains are; the Angels stride into wherever they need to be, in their impractical designer outfits; they make a mess of things; and the villains escape. The Angels also manage to assault and /or murder various innocent bystanders while they’re at it, so if the film had any morals it would have ended with the three of them in prison. That might have been a relief. Scott is sympathetic as the blundering, wide-eyed Elena, but in general the current Angels make you appreciate how charismatic Diaz, Barrymore and Liu were in comparison. The casting problems are obvious from the first moment Stewart strains to be a loud, goofy extrovert, the exact opposite of every role she has had before. Presumably, the same casting director picked Dwayne Johnson to play a shy, mild- mannered bookworm the next day. As for Balinska, her character is a former British intelligence agent who joined the Angels after becoming disillusioned with MI6 years earlier. Balinska is 23. Assuming that MI6 doesn’t recruit its agents in primary schools, the role should probably have gone to an actor a decade older.
However absurd the premise, you nevertheless need to believe that these women could do damage, pose a real threat, and not just physically. Banks leans on the laughs and silliness, the glitter and glamour, all while setting the Angels against cartoonish male villainy (Jonathan Tucker plays a menacing exception), which becomes a metaphor for patriarchal power. Banks wants to fight a righteous fight. But she is selling stale goods in which adult women spout girl-power clichés and conform to norms that make it very clear what kind of heroines still get to fly high: young, thin, beautiful, perfectly coifed, impeccably manicured and profoundly unthreatening.
Overall: Charlie’s Angels tries earnestly to bring these ladies into the 21st century. And it might have worked, if the film didn’t so consistently pull its punches. Verdict 2.5/5