The last time a Charlie’s Angels movie hit the big screen was the ridiculously over-the-top Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle back in 2003. An inferior sequel that failed to capture the same bouncy vibe of the 2000 predecessor and not to mention, it brought to an abrupt end to the potentially long-running movie franchise. Well, at least the way the sequel didn’t perform as well as expected, given its hefty US$120 million budget.
Then along came the multihyphenate Elizabeth Banks, taking over McG who previously directed the first two movies. Not only she’s in charge as a director but also served as a producer, writer and even co-starred in this third Charlie’s Angels movie. Initially intended as a reboot before gradually revealed as a continuation of the original movie franchise, the new Charlie’s Angels did reference the OG trio of Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu.
But other than that, it’s pretty much a soft reboot with the introduction of new, younger versions of Angels led by Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) and Jane Kano (Ella Balinska). We also learned that the Townsend Agency has now become a global organisation and no longer oversee by one Bosley (unlike the first two movies played by Bill Murray and the late Bernie Mac) but multiple Bosleys (among them include Elizabeth Banks, Djimon Hounsou and Patrick Stewart).
Their latest mission involved protecting a whistleblower (Naomi Scott’s Elena Houghlin), a young scientist who finds out her employers misusing the latest energy source technology that could be turned into a deadly weapon. Elena is subsequently drawn into the world of espionage and decided to fight back by taking part as a new Angel-in-training.
Now, if you thought Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle was bad, Elizabeth Banks did the impossible by turning this otherwise ambitious globe-trotting action-adventure into an uninspired piece of bargain-basement entertainment. Or put it this way, the latest movie is so tedious that it made Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle looks like a guilty-pleasure masterpiece by comparison. So, what went wrong?
First up is Banks’ inadequate direction who can’t seem to find the right footing throughout its nearly two-hour length. I hate to say this but it sure feels like a slog struggling to reach its finish line. Even with the movie’s global setting that takes place mostly in Germany and Turkey, she fails to make good use of these respective locations to stage something unique or interesting, let alone a memorable moment to begin with. The only closest thing that Banks can come up with is the decent Bond-like chase sequence throughout the streets of Hamburg, Germany.
Banks, who also responsible for the screenplay, clearly wanted to push her agenda about female empowerment and that “women can do anything” as Kristen Stewart’s Sabina Wilson mentioned in one of her dialogues earlier in the movie. She went as far as depicting Angels more of strong and independent women capable of handling even the most difficult situations, and less about making them into objects of male-gazing fantasies previously seen in the first two movies.
Charlie’s Angels also mark an era where it tries to fit in with the current sociopolitical landscape as Banks emphasises gender equality. This can be seen with the new introduction of a female Bosley played by the director herself. Whereas the idea of feminism in the otherwise traditionally male-driven espionage genre already long-established since the original TV series back in the 70s, the only biggest difference is the timing itself. And what a right timing it was to see a new Charlie’s Angels movie made a comeback after the franchise has been lying dormant for the last 16 years.
Of course, all the intended elements surrounding female empowerment and such wouldn’t matter much if the story itself fails to generate little interest. And that’s exactly what happened in the new Charlie’s Angels. The story limps from one scene to another, with only a few sporadically entertaining moments. The movie tries to be both serious and funny, where the latter has most of the jokes fall flat.
As for the former, Banks wanted to show that the new Angels can be as seriously committed as their respectively laidback attitude making fun of each other on some occasions. Unlike the previous two movies, one of the Angels played by Ella Balinska is portrayed as a largely uptight ex-MI6 agent who approached her latest mission more of her vendetta due to the certain death of a character. Personally, I don’t mind with some of the movie’s tonal shift that deviates from the first two movie’s campy tone. But the problem is, Banks couldn’t strike the right balance between a straightforward espionage thriller and a lighthearted comedy in between. This, in turn, made Balinska’s role of Jane Kano more like she belongs in a different movie altogether. For the record, I do enjoy Balinska’s breakthrough performance in the new Charlie’s Angels — a relative British newcomer in mainstream Hollywood cinema whose previous roles consist of short films and TV series (2018’s The Athena). She deserved better if not for the weak screenplay that squandered most of her potential.
Kristen Stewart, on the other hand, is a polar opposite altogether. Despite spending the last few years appearing in numerous small-scale movies and managed to improve upon her acting skill (see Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper — both of which directed by Olivier Assayas), it’s back to square one all over again when she returned to mainstream Hollywood for the first time since 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. And that is her same old wooden yet awkwardly vacant expression regardless of the way she smiled gets serious or even attempt to crack jokes. Don’t even get me started when she appeared in a dancing scene alongside Ella Balinska’s Jane Kano.
Naomi Scott, who made quite an impression playing Princess Jasmine in the otherwise disappointing live-action version of Aladdin a few months ago, is perfectly typecast as a naïve and fish-out-of-water type of character. She’s among the least lifesavers of this movie when comes to the casting choices other than Ella Balinska.
The supporting cast is mediocre, with Patrick Stewart faring the worse as John Bosley. Casting the Star Trek and X-Men legend himself should have been inspiring but his character is pretty much an underwritten role that sadly wasted his talent as an actor.
Charlie’s Angels did get one of the things right during a later scene involving blink-or-you-miss-it cameo appearances of familiar faces. But overall, the movie remains a huge missed opportunity to revive Charlie’s Angels for today’s generation. At the same time, it was a clear indication that Elizabeth Banks hasn’t had the directing chops to accomplish such a movie of this magnitude just yet.