A new generation of angels that no generation wanted

Sarah Bachmier reviews the 2019 reboot of Charlie’s Angels

I first heard about the Charlie’s Angels “reboot” from twitter. It was in a thread about how there are so many films being remade nowadays, and how there aren’t any original films anymore. Elizabeth Banks – who directed, wrote and co-starred in the film – has a different perspective. When asked by the Hollywood Reporter whether Hollywood makes too many reboots nowadays, she says: “No, not if you make it fresh, fun and interesting.”

Well, apparently that didn’t work for the Charlie’s Angels ­­reboot – it made only $8.6 million (in North America) on its opening weekend. Elizabeth Bank’s reaction to the movie’s poor performance likely isn’t helping her case, either. Banks’ tweeted in reponse to why people wouldn’t go and see female-led action films, that “[people will] go and see a comic book movie with Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel because that’s a male genre.” This backfired on Banks, as many people were upset, considering both the movies that Banks dismissed were received extremely well, Captain Marvel even surpassing $1.0 billion earlier this year.

Banks also brought up that Sony Pictures – the distributor of the film – didn’t do a good job with marketing the film. Considering I found out about the movie on social media during the summer (around when the first trailer was released), I can somewhat understand her point here. Except, the closer the movie got to its release of November 15, the more I saw about the film.

Every time I opened my Cineplex app, the first advertisement I got was for Charlie’s Angels. There was also the single “Don’t Call Me Angel” by very notable pop artists Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande and Lana Del Ray. It’s clear Sony Pictures was putting effort into advertising the movie.

There’s a reason that the theatre was only half-full when I went to see the film on Saturday night of its opening weekend. It’s everything else about the movie that likely made it the box office flop that it was.

Photo by Sony Pictures

The 2019 version of Charlie’s Angels follows two trained angels, Sabina (portrayed by Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska), on a mission to help newcomer and scientist Elena (Naomi Scott) take back her stolen technology to prevent it from being weaponized, and to figure out who is trying to steal it in the first place.

Charlies’ Angels wasn’t “fresh, fun and interesting” because it was bogged down with flaws that took away from the rest of the film. The directing of film was unbearably bland. There was never a shot on screen where I was like “wow, that is some amazing cinematography”. Usually, with every movie I watch, I have at least one of those moments. Charlie’s Angels did not deliver one. The colour tones were muted as well – the backgrounds were mixes of gray and neutral tones. It was very standard “action movie” directing – maybe even a bit below. It was like the camera was there to just film the scene, not do anything artistic with it.

The dialogue didn’t do the directing any favours. The film opens with Sabina (Kirsten Stewart) sweet-talking Chris Pang’s character, and this dialogue here was supposed to come across as kind of cringe. The rest of the film though was a hit and miss with the dialogue – the purpose likely wasn’t to cringe, but I cringed anyways. There’s a scene where Jane (Ella Balinska) flirts with Langston, (Noah Centineo) and Sabina’s line, “Jane, are you flirting with a handsome nerd?” made me want to hide in my seat.

Some of the humour worked, but a lot of it was too obvious that the film wasn’t taking itself too seriously. This can work for movies, if everything else is smooth and the dialogue has a purpose other than a flat joke – but not this movie. I think I’ll forever be haunted by the scene of Elena (Naomi Scott) nervously rapping a song before a presentation. It was an attempt at humour that did not do anything except give me second-hand embarrassment.

The plot didn’t give me any second-hand embarrassment, but it wasn’t great either. It was extremely straight forward. I never had to anticipate anything, because I could always figure out what was going to happen next. Every movie nowadays has a “plot twist” – but can you call it a plot twist if it was obvious? That was the case for Charlie’s Angels. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before in an action spy movie, bearing resemblance to many others.

I appreciate the context behind the film and why it was made. It is clearly an action movie made for women, written for women, and by women. I appreciate that there are no scenes that are explicitly for the male gaze, like Cameron Diaz’s infamous underwear dancing scene in the original 2000 movie. Whether this was a deterrent for men to see the film, I don’t know. But I do know the target audience wasn’t men – it was women of any age. The men in the film didn’t really serve too much of a purpose except to further the plot for the women – which is a subversion of classic film gender roles. The focus was all on the women, which is rare for action movies.

The concept of the movie and what is was trying to do overshadows what the movie actually was. It was fun and enjoyable at times, but I don’t know if the good outweighs the bad. Charlie’s Angels is a reboot that had good intentions behind it, but the execution of it impacted what the film could’ve done for the movie industry. There will be people who like this film – like the 12 teenage girls at the back of the theatre who clapped at the end of the movie. Women like those girls need good examples of women in film growing up – except I don’t think the flawed Charlies Angels reboot is the best film to look up to.