Though still far from having equal representation in front of the camera (and even further behind it), recent years have seen an increase in the amount of big budget films led by women. I see this as a step in the right direction- cinema should be more varied and all stories should be told- but remaking the same male-led film I already dislike, but with women instead doesn’t seem to be serving any purpose. This isn’t to say Charlie’s Angels is a bad film. In fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit. More that, like some other films before it, including this year’s Captain Marvel and 2015’s The Force Awakens, while decent with enough good moments to make them rewarding watches, the only thing that really separates them from the other mediocrity in the Marvel, Star Wars, and, in this case, generic spy film franchises, is their leads.
The leads in Charlie’s Angels, however, were a blast to watch, especially Kristen Stewart. Though most people still only seem to inexplicably know her through her role in Twilight and its sequels, she is far from a bad actress. You wouldn’t call Natalie Portman a bad actress because of the horrid dialogue she had to deliver in the Star Wars prequels but Stewart never seems to be afforded the same benefit of taking the material into consideration. Those who have followed her career in recent years will have seen her take on a number of exciting roles that have let her prove her skill as an actress. Either group will likely find something new to appreciate here as she plays a character unlike any of her past ones as she trades in her often sulky mannerisms to play the comedic lead. Stewart is just as compelling as ever, making some horribly clunky dialogue seem reasonably acceptable, and I would happily watch her character for many more hours, but the rest of the cast was no less adept in their roles. Ella Balinska’s Jane is more of a stoic loner and serves as a great foil to Stewart’s Sabina. Meanwhile Naomi Scott, playing the audience surrogate, a genius scientist who designed the weaponized energy system that propels the film’s plot and gets her caught up in the world of the Angels, wonderfully captures the wide-eyed enthusiasm that Elizabeth Banks hopes the audience will also have while watching the film’s events unfold. The rest of the cast enjoys fairly limited presences on screen but they all represent their character types as well as anyone who took on essentially the same role in a Bond film and their quirks are enough to make them stand out a bit.
It’s got all that could be expected from its type of spy film with gadgets and disguises and exotics locales galore, but none of it really improves the film. Rather, it pushes it into the same traps more ambitious films have fallen into. Showing the audience a shiny object in the hopes they forgive some flaws is not the same as not having flaws in the first place. There’s always a convenient, if satisfying, fix to the precarious situations the Angels find themselves in, and there’s never a feeling that there are any real stakes.
Even when we know there will be more films with these characters, or at least the studio hopes there will be, as the recent Mission Impossible films have shown, it isn’t impossible to create real tension. Unfortunately, though clearly influenced by Mission Impossible, Charlie’s Angels is more closely aligned with Marvel films in its willingness to take risks. While it never builds to much as a whole, individual scenes quite often succeed. Beyond the fun of watching outlandish gadgets and witty one-liners, the action is well executed. The outcome may be seen miles away and the actual violence obscured to keep a PG-13 rating, but it’s all character driven. When so many seem to show characters simply beating on each other until one gives up or a CGI laden battle where nothing is clearly discernible, it’s refreshing to see characters use their wits and skills specific to them to not only win a fight but propel the story and provide better characterization.
It goes so over the top on the girl power message that it threatens to undermine its purpose. With a montage of girls doing things having no real purpose at all, throwaway lines about Ruth Bader Ginsburg being one of Charlie’s Angels, and a slew of songs from today’s most popular female musicians crowd the film, sometimes it leaned into the cringe inducing. Still, even if no song quite reaches the heights of the number Destiny’s Child did for the 2000 film, the message and just about every other aspect come across better than in the McG entries to the franchise and it’s such lighthearted fun that the message isn’t all that big a part of what the audience should be looking for anyway. It’s far from perfect and almost the definition of by the numbers but I would happily go see another should one ever be made.