Charlie’s Angels (2019) Review
(AND UNWANTED) REBOOT
Back in the mid-70s, ABC ran the television series Charlie’s Angels, an American crime drama show that followed under the premise of a wealthy mystery man named Charlie, who runs a detective agency via a speaker phone and his personal assistant, John Bosley. His detective were three beautiful women, who end up in a variety of difficult situations. The show, which ran for five seasons (1976-1981) and consisted of 110 episodes, became iconic for its time, with Charlie’s Angels becoming an American cult and pop culture in the 70s era. In 2000, the idea of Charlie’s Angels was revisited and was brought to life in a more cinematic experience with the theatrical releases of 2000’s Charlie’s Angels and its follow-up sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle in 2003. The films kept up the same premise as the original show, but modernized the experience and added more action and thrills to the story. However, the movies, while making a decent profit and the box office, faced mixed reviews from both critics and moviegoers. After the release of the two feature films, the idea of Charlie’s Angels was dusted off once again for another chance; this time returning to the small screen for a television series reboot in 2011. Unfortunately, the project failed to due to a poor reception from critics and viewers and 2011’s Charlie’s Angels was cancelled after airing only seven episodes. Now, in an attempt to revive this popular brand franchise, Sony / Columbia Pictures and director Elizabeth Banks presents the 2019 reboot with the movie Charlie’s Angels. Does this remake endeavor prove a look or is it time to retire the “Angels” once and for all?
Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) is a nervous tech genius who is trying to perfect a device (named Calisto), which is capable of producing clean energy for the world, but is worked about its application, with her boss, Peter Fleming (Nat Faxon), pressuring her to present Calisto to the company’s head honcho, Alexander Brock (Sam Claflin). Realizing that the machine could be easily weaponized, Elena seeks out outside assistance on this potential cover-up, with tech scientist coming into the care of Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) and Jane Kano (Ella Balinska), two members of the Townsend Detective Agency who’ve recently retired their original Bosley (Patrick Stewart), replacing him with a new Bosley (Elizabeth Banks). Learning that Fleming has disappeared with Calisto, the Angels and Elena travel around the globe to track down Peter and prevent him from meeting with a mysterious buyer. Along the way, Elena witness the prowess and skills that Sabina and Jane posse as they take down villains, getting used to her role as a potential recruit.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Good morning, Angels. Good morning, Charlie!” the classic tagline moniker for the popular franchise series. Yes, it maybe a bit “before my time” I did see a few of the original Charlie’s Angels episode and (for its time) were pretty good, especially for syndicated TV in the late 70s / early 80s. However, my really experience of Charlie’s Angels was in the two 2000s movies and, while not exactly the “best out there”, the two feature movies provided some content within the classic property. Also, I vaguely do remember the 2011 reboot TV series (I remember seeing the commercials for it on TV), but, much like the show itself, it was fleeting…. here one day and gone the next. In hindsight, it didn’t even look memorable or even worth a viewing. In the end, it seems like the Charlie’s Angels moniker served its purpose on pop culture, but the idea had run its course.
Well, I guess it hasn’t since its 2019 and now there’s a new remake of Charlie’s Angels. Like may out there, I wasn’t impressed or keen on the idea of the franchise being rebooted once again. However, given Hollywood’s fascination of playing up nostalgia with its recent endeavors, it wasn’t too much of a surprise that the Charlie’s Angels brand would eventually be picked up for another cinematic interpretation. The film’s movie trailers were plastered everywhere. Almost every movie I saw when I went to my local movie theater (for my weekly “at the movies” outings) and I just wasn’t too impressed with what was showing. I mean…. the cast looked good, but I just didn’t get a “good vibe” from it. Plus, like I said above…another remake from Hollywood of an old popular property. So, you can imagine I didn’t have the greatest enthusiasm in seeing this new remake of Charlie’s Angels. However, I decided to check it out and see if I could be surprised by this movie. Was I? Well, to kind of. Despite having some slick action sequences and some likeable talents featured in the movie, 2019’s Charlie’s Angels just comes off as a glossier and derivate reboot of the classic franchise that does little to revigorate brand name. It’s not the totally derailment I was expecting, but the film is just a subpar decent romp that doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.
Charlie’s Angels is directed by Elizabeth Banks, who has plenty of acting credibility in her career with projects like Brightburn, Invincible, and The Hunger Games saga as well as having a hand in directing Pitch Perfect 2. To me, Banks seems like some who would try to reboot the Charlie’s Angels for the franchise, which isn’t a bad thing, especially since she directed the Pitch Perfect 2 sequel; another film that was right up her alley in tone and style. The interesting that Banks does with the Charlie’s Angels property is update the material for a modern audience as well as for today’s world; making the Townsend Detective Agency going global for an international organization, including making the term of “Bosley” a rank in the agency rather than just an individual person. Banks does stage a lot of film’s bigger moments (i.e. the action sequences) feel lively and a bit exciting. They’re not exactly the best (kind of generic), but are presented in way that’s pleasant and works for what the movie (and Banks) want to convey.
Production-wise, Charlie’s Angels has the right amount of quality one would expect from a spy action flick. It doesn’t go “above and beyond” within its production, but rather keeps up the “status quo” of the genre. What do I mean? Well, like a lot of spy endeavors, the movie focuses a lot on its background settings and nuances, including international destinations, action fights, car chases, gadgets, and plenty of slick / catchy outfits. It definitely works in the movie’s favor, which makes the film’s presentation look quite well. Thus, the “behind the scenes” talents of Aaron Haye (production designs), Mark Rosinski (set decorations), and Kym Barrett (costume designs) should be mentioned for their efforts on this project. The movie might not be the best, but it sure does look stylish. Additionally, while the movie’s score, composed by Brian Tyler, hits all the right melodic notes for a spy action endeavor, the film does have a catchy soundtrack of pop culture song selections throughout the feature.
Unfortunately, Charlie’s Angels does falter within its own premise and deals out a somewhat clunky viewing experience throughout. For starters, the movie (as a whole) just feels decent and average as nothing really truly stands out to be quite memorable and / or having anything creatively new or innovated, with the only exception being about bringing the Townsend Agency to an international global organization. Thus, this brings up the question as to why “reboot” the Charlie’s Angels franchise altogether with this movie? No one really desired it and the whole idea of Hollywood rebooting older properties for a newer audience is almost now a frowned upon notion with many moviegoers out there (i.e. Hollywood needs more new ideas). So, what’s given in the film’s script, which was penned by Banks herself (pulling double duty on this project), is a passable spy action adventure that has been done time and time again, with the character of Elena being “new recruit” for us (the viewers) to catch up what’s going on with the Townsend Agency’s “angels”. It’s a tried and true method of storytelling, but both Banks’s direction nor her script deliver on making this commonplace story thread fun or creative; rendering the main storyline plain and derivate. This also makes the movie extremely predictable and formulaic with several major foreshadowing moments and / or “twist” events easy to see coming and renders the whole “shock and awe” moot. Again, nothing really stands out and even the bad guy’s main plot of the movie, which includes another derivate “modern high-tech device”, feels weak and underwhelming. In short, Charlie’s Angels is just poorly managed in storytelling and doesn’t help with its glossy finish, but lacking substance.
This, of course, brings up the most biggest criticism I have with this movie: the female political / gender nuances that surrounds this movie’s premise and throughout the film’s runtime from start to finish. What do I mean? Well (and I might get some flack from this), the idea female empowerment in a movie is perfect and I do highly praise feature film (nowadays) for incorporating such strong idealism within its story and its characters. That being said, Charlie’s Angels just gives off the wrong impression within its strong female representation with some dated and just plain archaic clichés about women and how men see women. Yes, I get it. Even in today’s world, there are some male individuals out there that still see woman as second rate and can’t do a man’s job (i.e. the whole “battle of sexes”). And yes, Hollywood has taken strides into developing theatrical films to showcase strong female characters (both fictional ones and historical figures), including Frozen, Moana, Harriet, Hidden Figures, Ocean’s 8, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Late Night, Black Panther, 2019’s Aladdin, On the Basis of Sex, and several others. Heck, even Terminator: Dark Fate showcased how female lead characters can be accepted as badass action fighters. 2019’s Charlie’s Angels just goes back to the stale and tiresome tropes of men being pigs, sexist, and painted as the horny simpletons. This is clearly showing in the film’s opening scene with a male character telling one of “angels” that a man knows what’s best for her and elaborates more on the subject. This definitely left a strong sour taste in my mouth as this type of talk goes on and on and on throughout the movie; showcasing men as devious individuals who think women can’t do anything. I get it…I seriously do, but these types of gender nuance references are just flat out and painstakingly planned scenes that are so forced that it becomes unbearable and almost cringeworthy, especially since these ideas are so cliched and dated. I’m all for strong female characters and the empowerment that they have on idealisms in society, with the movie having its heart in the right place, but it’s horrible presented and executed in Charlie’s Angels.
Even looking past all of that, the movie itself feels extremely bland with a plethora of generic spy tropes one could find within the many spy action thrillers out there. Gadgets are there, but not as well-develop or fun for the characters to riff off of. Flashy outfits are presented and on full display, but feel too focus-centric and draws attention away from the immediate threats on the particular scenes. Sudden twists and turns in the movie’s narrative are there to surprise us (the viewers), but the film telegraphs them before they happen and quite easy to see coming. So, you get the idea. Banks’s script wants desperately to be the next “big thing” in the spy action genre, but, without creative ingenuity and fun ideas to “punch up” the scenes with, the movie just ends up being DOA right from the get-go.
What does save the movie from being a total disappointment is in Charlie’s Angels cast, especially with the main trio of female leads. However, the cast is good, but their characters are flatly written. Of course, I’m talking the characters of Sabina Wilson, Jane Kano, and Elena Houghlin, who are played by actresses Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska, and Naomi Scott respectfully. Of the three of them, Stewart, known for her roles in the Twilight Saga, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, probably has the most experience in the acting field and definitely shows and she actually delivers probably the most memorable of not only the three main lead characters, but of also the movie. Stewart also handles most of the comedic dialogue in Charlie’s Angels and, while not all the jokes land properly, she makes them fun. Have to say that Stewart’s Sabina ten times better than her role of Bella Swan in the Twilight movies. Balinska’s Jane, known for her roles in The Athena, Midsomer Murders, and A Modern Tale, is probably the least interesting character of the main three. I definitely get what Banks wanted to do with her character and Balinska acting talents are fine, but the character doesn’t really grow and feels very much the same throughout the movie. She definitely looks the part, but that’s it; making Jane Kano my least favorite character. Lastly, Scott, known for her roles The 33, Power Rangers, and Aladdin, fits the bill for the “new recruit” architype character of Elena, who gets caught up in the film’s events and has the most character growth of the bunch. Scott has proven to be talented young actress and it shows in the movie, but the character is still just a stock-like protagonist character that feels derivate to other similar character in the same situation. Again, Bank’s script doesn’t challenge the status quo of the spy action genre.
Collectively, while each of these three characters have their criticism faults, Stewart, Balinska, and Scott are effectively good on-screen together. It’s just sad that the movie doesn’t really do much with their characters and makes them generic and thinly written.
Anchoring the feature as the more “seasoned veterans” are both Elizabeth Banks (pulling a third role on this project) as one of the new Bosleys of the Agency (i.e. Rebekah Bosley) and actor Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation and Logan) as the original John Bosley in the movie world. Both Banks and Stewart certainly bring their gravitas acting talents to the feature’s proceedings, but (unfortunately) the movie’s weak script and fumbling direction renders these two Bosley characters flat and unmemorable, which is disappointing. Also, actor Jonathan Tucker (The Ruins and Sleepers) does a decent (if not cliched) silent assassin baddie Hodak.
The rest of the supporting players, including actor Sam Claflin (Me Before You and Adrift) as business tech tycoon Alexander Brock, actor Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator and Blood Diamond) as Edgar Bosley (one of the Townsend agency’s Bosleys), actor Nat Faxon (The Way Way Back and Club Dread) as Elena’s superior boss Peter Fleming, actor Noah Centineo (The Fosters and T@gged) as Elena’s assistant Langston, actor Chris Pang (Crazy Rich Asians and Marco Polo) as Jonny Smith, and actor Luis Gerardo Mendez (Bayonet and Time Share) as the agency’s employee specializing in weapons and tech dubbed “The Saint”, are all just okay in their respective roles. Some characters are fine, but most are just goofy and pandering the whole “men are sexist” clichés that plague this movie, which makes their participating in the movie cringeworthy. Lastly, the movie does have several small “cameo-like” appearances from several famous / recognizable celebrities, so be sure to be on the lookout for them throughout the movie.
The “Angels” are back and a new team is ready to answer the call in the movie Charlie’s Angels. Director Elizabeth Banks’s latest projects sees the return of the iconic / pop culture leading spy women that fight crime and stop the bad guys for a new generation and somewhat updating the material for a modern audience. However, despite some slick action sequences and likeable trio of lead actress, the rest of the movie just can’t overcome its overall derivate nature of being predictable, lazy, messy, and just plain archaic clichés of female empowerment that seem dated and out of touch with today’s world. To me, I really didn’t care for this movie. Yes, I didn’t have the greatest expectations for this movie, but it was still just a plain spy action thriller that really didn’t find its own cinematic foundation stand on. There are some things I liked about it, but the negatives definitely outweigh the positives ones. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is firm “skip it” as there’s not a whole lot of nuances to make the viewing experience enjoyable. Just watch the original Charlie’s Angels TV shows (for the OGs out there) or even the two 2000s movies (you’ll get more out of them than this particular reboot film). While the idea of continuing with the “Angels” (Sabina, Elena, and Jane) or even possibility a new set of “angels” is there, 2019’s Charlie’s Angels just comes off unwanted and dated reboot / remake that no one really asked for. The “Angels” are back, but that’s not really a good thing.
2.2 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: November 15th, 2019
Reviewed On: November 22nd, 2019
Charlie’s Angels is 118 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for action / violence, language, and some suggestive material