Cinema Dispatch: Charlie’s Angels

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Charlie’s Angels and all the images you see in this review are owned by Sony Pictures Releasing

Directed by Elizabeth Banks

I’ve never seen the Charlie’s Angels movies from the early 2000s, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original TV series either.  Heck, I’m pretty sure the closest thing I’ve seen to it was Totally Spies, and while that has its fans, it’s pretty much been dropped into the memory hole with dozens of other 2000s shows that you don’t remember.  So if nothing else, I can at least come into this series with a relatively fresh perspective, and I’ve got to say that I’ve been pretty interested in what we’ve been shown so far; particularly the cast which looks to be amazing and the fact that it’s being directed by Elizabeth Banks who has been gaining some momentum as a voice behind the camera as well as in front of it.  Does this reboot of the seventies classic bring the franchise into the twenty first century; at least for the second time?  Let’s find out!!

Elena (Naomi Scott) is a scientist working at some business company on some new technology that will revolutionize the power industry through… I guess computer coding?  The invention in this case is called Calisto which is a little box the size of an Echo Dot or a Google Home that can somehow power entire rooms and even buildings.  However, there is ONE itty-bitty flaw with it in that it can cause people to have brain aneurisms through some sort of bug that Elena is SURE she can fix, but her misogynistic boss (Nat Faxon) won’t let her because they have to get it to market and he wants to take all the credit for it.  If only there was an agency that understood her plight as a woman in tech and could help her stop a supervillain plot at the same time.  Oh wait!  There is!  The Townsend Agency consists primarily of Bosleys and Angels; the latter being the agents who go on missions and the former being the ones to coordinate the Angels.  The two angles who got assigned to Elena’s case are Sabina and Jane (Kristen Stewart and Ella Balinska) and it should be a straightforward Exposé of company documents, but when an assassin (Jonathan Tucker) shows up and takes out one of the Bosleys (Djimon Hounsou), things have clearly escalated to a point far more seirous than Elena had ever imagined.  With the help of a new Bosley (Elizabeth Banks), the three women team up to try and take () back from the evil company and find out just what it is they plan on doing with it in its current deadly state.  Will Elena prove herself to be a true Angel in the making despite a lifetime of being under the thumb of patriarchal and woman unfriendly industry?  What are Sabina and Jane’s story, and will they find excuses to clash with one another when they really should be working together to save the world?  Most importantly of all, does this succeed in empowering women to be in silly spy movies just like men can!?

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“Why does SHE get the gun?”     “Do you know how to use a gun?”     “I mean… it’s the principal of the matter.”     “WHAT principal!?”     “Uh… feminism?”     “Yeah… no.”     “You’re right.  My bad.”

This movie is by no means a classic, but I had a lot more fun than I expected to in this; even with it’s very clear and very obnoxious flaws.  The key words for today are indulgent and sloppy as this movie manages to hit some very broad and unsubtle notes that work, but also can’t seem to find the right balance of these elements in either the story or film making.  It’s a shame because with a bit of tweaking and a less shaky camera, I could have easily seen this being as good as the most recent Ghostbusters movie which I still maintain is absolutely wonderful, but even if it’s not quite at that level it still has a lot of fun moments, some great acting from our leads, and will surely infuriate the worst kind of man babies on the internet, and after all, isn’t that the reason we make movies in the first place?

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“Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to destroy gamers once and for all.”     “Finally!”

First and foremost, with a personality driven franchise like this you need the right stars with the right balance of chemistry, humor, and believability in the roles.  If nothing else can be said about this movie, The Angels are top notch with our three leads plus Elizabeth Banks as one of the Bosleys giving great performances that could they could build a franchise off of.  Kristen Stewart in particular is the standout playing the Holtzman equivalent as the off the wall show stealer with some great comedic timing, solid action chops, and a magnetic personality that makes itself known whenever she’s in the room.  It’s astounding that not even a decade ago she was considered an abysmal actress due to those Twilight movies, and sure those weren’t the BEST showcase of her talent, but considering how much great work both her and Robert Pattinson are doing nowadays, we should probably look back on that time with a bit more self-reflection and look towards future stars and teen franchises with a little less skepticism.  Ella Balinska doesn’t have the showy role that Stewart has, but her more serious demeanor grounds the rest of the movie and makes it more impactful when she does take center stage to kick some butt and represent a good chunk of the film’s thematic through line.  The only one who feels A BIT underwhelming is Naomi Scott as the newbie of the crew who joins basically out of desperation and then a sense of adventure and fulfillment.  She’s not bad by any stretch and they do some great things with her story, but I guess her being AS MUCH of a spy in this movie BEFORE she officially trains to become an Angel is where the film stretches credulity a bit.

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“I’M REALLY GLAD YOU LET ME TAG ALONG!  IF I COULD JUST GET CLARIFICATION ON A FEW TOPICS HERE-”     *BANG* *BANG* *BANG*     “The Q&A is AFTER the mission!”

So we’ve got a great cast to work with including some very strong supporting players (Jonathan Tucker is one of the best henchmen I’ve seen in a while with the perfect mix of intimidation and overbearing machismo), and story that… well we’ll get to it soon enough, but more importantly (at least for me) it’s a movie that doesn’t ask you to consider the implications of its story or even its politics to any serious degree to instead provide you with an experience akin to that of an over the top silly action film, a gory horror film with nasty kills and reckless abandon, or even a lowbrow comedy only with the fart jokes replaced with GIRL POWER messaging.  To some the flaws in such a popcorn version of feminism will be too apparent to find basic satisfaction in, but I never go the sense that the movie was trying to be MORE than disposable empowerment and to that extent it manages to succeed.  It also comes off as fairly sincere in its efforts rather than pandering despite the broadness and even shallowness of its indulgent elements.  Scenes that could have simply HAD female characters doing things are writing with a bit more pop to show that the filmmakers really wanted to make something enjoyable with its almost cartoonish excess.

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“Not to stifle your creative energy, but most of these things WILL kill you in ten seconds flat.”     “Even the lipstick?”     “ESPECIALLY the lipstick!”     “AWESOME!”

That said, even if your movie is going for a more shallow and flashy sort of fun, it still requires solid cinematography and a well-constructed story which sadly this movie lacks as the action scenes are almost incomprehensible with the shaky cam and characters’ seem to act in service of the narrative rather than in a way that truly makes sense.  I get that there’s a concern that there may be a mole in the Townsend agency, but why is Elizabeth Banks holding things SO close to the chest even with the only members of the team she can actually trust?  Of course it’s to set up a possible betrayal angle which I won’t spoil the outcome of here, but there are things like that throughout the movie that feel oddly specific to moving the invisible hand of the plot along rather than anything that makes any sense.  They lose one of the Calisto boxes early on; not because it makes sense to, but because the plot needed them to chase after it for a bit longer while also demonstrating its abilities early on.  A character shows up seemingly at random at the VERY end of the movie as a hostage for no other reason than we saw him at one point earlier in the movie.  A spy thriller, even one that doesn’t take itself too seriously, still needs to have a tight narrative or the whole house of cards falls apart, and while I’d say that at least SOME of it is still standing by the end, a bit more discipline and at least one rewrite would have kept it all together.

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BOY this scene would have been great if we could see more than five seconds of it!

It has been a REALLY good few weeks at the theaters and so I can’t say that this is something you need to run out and see, at least while films like The Lighthouse, Doctor Sleep, and Gemini Man are still playing, but had it been released in any other year it would have done taken the spotlight and perhaps wouldn’t have had the trouble finding an audience it seems to have had.  Then again, November’s been an oddly bad month even for REALLY good movies, so maybe this will get a bit of traction once it gets a home release.  If you’ve got nothing better to do and have seen the better movies out this year than I would definitely recommend checking this one out (at least at a matinee), but even with my solid opinion of it I think it’s perfectly fine to wait for the home release.  If nothing else, Kristen Stewart needs her own spy franchise yesterday!  Heck, they already tried replacing Jason Bourne once; why not try it again!?

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