Directed, written by, and co-starring Elizabeth Banks, Charlie’s Angels stars Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, and Kristen Stewart as the new Angels of the Charles Townsend Agency, tasked with retrieving a self-sustaining energy source that could endanger the world’s population if put into the wrong hands.
What a weird franchise to try and keep alive today. Charlie’s Angels started as a 70s TV series that ran for 5 seasons, was cancelled in 1981, spawned two movies in the 2000s due to a small boom of movie adaptations of shows from the 70s. The movies grossed a fair amount of money and were well-liked by general audiences for the performances of the main cast, but they were as much a product of the time as the original series was. Initially, the idea of having a new Charlie’s Angels movie now could mean a fresh take on the franchise and keeping it up to date with current action cinema and narratives around female empowerment. This 2019 reboot certainly does a lot of the latter and nowhere near enough of the former.
I do enjoy Elizabeth Banks as an actress, but since her only directorial credits are this and Pitch Perfect 2, I can say I’m not a fan of her as a director. The Pitch Perfect movies are insufferable and generic, and I had faith that Charlie’s Angels could utilise its cast in a kickass and thoroughly enjoyable way, but Banks’ script is mostly laugh-free, relying more on obvious jokes or not understanding basic timing in the scenes intended to be funny. It’s quite baffling how much the movie will either linger on a bland joke as if waiting for the hopeful laughter to die down, or sometimes it will just throw joke after joke in a condensed and frantic fashion that you’re left unsure of what just happened. Banks is the writer and director and star, and if she had be one or the other I’d perhaps be less critical, but being all three feels too much, making her expression as a filmmaker and a severely bland one.
What hurts the most is that this the poorly directed action. Sure, there’s a few moments where things slow down and you see a wide shot or sweeping angle of something big and flashy, but the simple hand-to-hand combat or gunfights have the camera just too damn close, creating little to no geography within the scene. Basic action direction would say that everything should be centre-framed to hold the attention of the audience when things start to get active, but Charlie’s Angels constantly forgets this in favour of off-centre framing and cutting to close-ups as if this is a Taken sequel we never wanted.
Kristen Stewart feels energised and ready to do anything, Naomi Scott continues a winning streak of being charming and likeable in generic movies, and Ella Balinska is a great new talent to keep an eye on. Surprise appearances from Sir Patrick Stewart and Sam Claflin can keep my attention going, but such a nice cast can’t save a lacklustre plot you have seen a hundred times before and can predict every beat of. Charlie’s Angels may be a better fit to audiences of young girls wanting a bit of inspiration, and that’s ok, but even in areas of empowerment and representation, this movie is a clunky piece of nothing that I forgot as soon as it was over.
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska
Writer: Elizabeth Banks, (based on a story by Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn)