Director: Elizabeth Banks
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Djimon Hounsou, Noah Centineo, Sam Claflin, Patrick Stewart
Runtime: 1 hr 59 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Sony Pictures
Opening Day: 14 November 2019
Synopsis: Director Elizabeth Banks takes the helm as the next generation of fearless Charlie’s Angels take flight. In Banks’ bold vision, Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska are working for the mysterious Charles Townsend, whose security and investigative agency has expanded internationally. With the world’s smartest, bravest, and most highly trained women all over the globe, there are now teams of Angels guided by multiple Bosleys taking on the toughest jobs everywhere.
Lest we be accused of being sexist, let it be known that we had really wanted to like this latest reboot of ‘Charlie’s Angels’. Scripted and directed by Elizabeth Banks, it is a genuinely earnest attempt at reinventing a franchise which had been less about female empowerment than about male escapism. Yet despite her best intentions as zeitgeist of the current #MeToo social milieu, it is a plodding, thuddingly dull, effort with few laughs and even fewer thrills, and likely to leave you feeling utterly indifferent.
To Banks’ credit, she has made a couple of nifty upgrades to the series template. Instead of simply being the second-in-command to Charlie in the Townsend Agency, Bosley is now a rank for the highest-in-charge of the bureaus which the Agency has established all over the world (hence opening the door for future spin-offs), thus setting the stage for what would be a crucial element in the plot involving the retirement of the previous Bosley (Patrick Stewart). In his place is Banks’ herself, who chooses not only to guide the action from behind-the-scenes but also in front of it.
As a former Angel-turned-Bosley, Banks leads a team comprising Sabina (Kristen Stewart), a Park Avenue rich kid who did not want to be fated to the life she had been given, and Jane (British newcomer Ella Balinska), a former MI-6 agent who decided she no longer wanted to work for the Government. Their mission is to protect the brilliant young scientist Elena (Naomie Scott), who is motivated by her conscience to expose the deadly potential of her company’s latest invention named Calisto – which she discovers, can be weaponised to generate an electro-magnetic pulse enough to kill a person within close range.
Not only does her snivelling boss (Nat Faxon) not want that disclosed to their company’s chief investor Alexander Brok (Sam Claflin), he is more than willing to sell the device(s) to a mysterious buyer, who has in turn engaged a professional hitman (Jonathan Tucker) that will put the Angels’ ass-kicking training to good use. Their cat-and-mouse game brings them from Rio to Hamburg to Berlin to Istanbul and finally to London, ensuring that the globe-trotting element in such espionage films remains very much intact. And thankfully too – for the change in location actually compensates somewhat for the underwhelming action.
In fact, that description is already being kind to how lifeless the action is. Right from the opening act where Sabina and a fellow Angel go up against the bodyguards of a rich and powerful embezzler in a sting operation, it is apparent that the choreography needs more work, the cinematography doesn’t quite know how to bring the audience into the scene, and the editing is just all over the place. These same faults perpetuate throughout each and every one of the film’s subsequent set pieces, all of which suffer from varying degrees of incoherence, monotony and sheer tedium.
It doesn’t help that the humour, which is intended to fizz up the action, also falls way short of being witty. You can tell that Banks had intended to go for a tone that is fairly light, yet serious enough in its portrayal of ‘girl power’ to ensure we take it seriously, but the jokes are simply too forced or too arcane (like its ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’ joke which many, like Elena in the movie, will struggle to comprehend). At least the two earlier McG movies didn’t try to pretend that they were anything more than frivolous entertainment; here, the strain of trying to be pulpy yet compelling shows, and Banks never quite finds the right balance to make it work both ways.
Perhaps the only thing she does get right is in casting Stewart, Balinska and Scott as the next-generation of Angels. Stewart gives her best shot at the comic asides and drive-by zingers, and manages an endearingly goofy presence despite the script doing little justice to her character. Together though, there is palpable chemistry among the trio, and their raw energy compensates for the material’s lack thereof, both in terms of plotting and execution.
So indeed, we had much wanted to like this latest version of ‘Charlie’s Angels’, but we were honestly left deeply wanting. You’ll wish Banks had a better handle on the comedy, the action, and the balance between them; you’ll wish she’d figured out how to make the characters more than caricatures of empowerment; and you’ll even wish she’d tone down the flag-waving on feminism, as much as that is her objective. And with flavourless pop songs as well as in-your-face product placement, we’d much prefer the trashy pleasures of the earlier McG movies than this bland, boring and bumbling misfire.
(Aside from the casting, there is little else in this feminist-driven reboot of 'Charlie's Angels' that works)
Review by Gabriel Chong