Director: Elizabeth Banks
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Elizabeth Banks, Ella Balinska
Brie. Edgar Bosley (Djimon Hounsou) – one of the handlers at the Townsend International Academy of Badassery (my name for it) – likes brie. We learn this some way into the movie. And its suitable, really. Actor/writer/producer/director Elizabeth Banks’ rejuvenation of Charlie’s Angels is the soft cheese to McG’s early-00s hard variety. Where those flicks were their era’s Long Clawson, Banks is going for something smoother, softer, more European in flavour… but still unmistakably cheesy.
She starts off by worrying us a little. The ‘cold open’ intro to Angels Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) stutters through pointed, soapboxy dialogue over a woman’s place in the world. One senses studio focus-grouped ‘girl power’ platitudes, and its all too easy to envisage the movie at large tripping over itself to show how empowering it can be. Fortunately, this aspect is dialled back as things progress. It’s outspoken mandate established, Charlie’s Angels circa 2019 is happier showing as opposed to telling.
This concept – female spies that use the element of surprise to get their jobs done – is old hat by now, and Banks wisely skips over much of the lore, feathering in just what she needs. Charlie isn’t really a tangible part of the picture (just as well, as this paternal figure always did undermine the whole concept…). Instead we discover Townsend as an outfit working globally with multiple Bosleys – the moniker given to all handlers – gender be damned. Banks casts herself as one of these handlers; a director both behind and in front of the camera, if you will.
Her ace is Kristen Stewart. Sabina is funny, horny, hedonistic and happy to be doing the best job in the world. Is she queer? She doesn’t seem the type to entertain labels. The whole movie’s a little queer, powered by a kooky strain of humour that doesn’t quite get the audience roaring but is still, well, pretty damned funny. It’s almost as if Banks has seen the uphill struggle involved in getting her movie respected and has decided, fuck it, she’s gonna just make the movie she wants.
And I can admire that.
Stewart/Sabina’s irrepressible magnetism powers it, and all around her struggle to keep up. Her closest second is Balinska as Jane; former MI6, a little nerdy, extremely good at hitting people with her body. They’re essentially a double act (a baity scene subtly implies more between them)… but they’re open to becoming a trio. Especially when computer genius Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) stumbles into their midst.
This is where things get, unfortunately, a little tiresome. Not Scott; she’s more than capable and quite funny, too. More the done-to-death story line that Elena brings along with her.
A global tech company is about to launch a new Alexa-style device to revolutionise the energy industry… except it’s not safe and can be weaponised to kill people, if you know how to ‘hack’ it (remember hacking?). So there’s a McGuffin, a whole bit about a black market deal to sell the gadget… Thoroughly generic mid-Bond material. It’s blah enough for you to ask, reasonably, why care at all? Why stay with the picture?
The answer is a whole lotta charm. Chiefly this comes from the interplay between the leads (even if Stewart’s running circles around the other two). Banks is a serviceable director. She’s a shade more adventurous here than with her previous, Pitch Perfect 2, but there’s little dynamism on display. Christopher McQuarrie need not worry just yet.
But there are plenty of fun moments and asides to keep you smiling through her derivative but pacey story. I was personally delighted by every aspect of the mid-film stop-off to meet Saint (Luis Gerardo Méndez); the Angels’ personal well-being guru. It’s the fulcrum of a movie that isn’t so much about beating the men (though men do get beaten), but more about looking after yourself; realising who you are and how you can thrive. The women clown around so you’re never under the illusion that this is meant to be taken too seriously, yet their determination and wherewithal is painted sincerely. Charlie’s Angels doesn’t pander too broadly, despite early concerns. It sticks to mid-budget, low-stakes adventures and laughs, and on that score its efficient.
So yes its a frivolous, dopey, pop-corny kinda movie, and it could really do with a Destiny’s Child belter on the soundtrack. But sometimes its enough to be doing just fine.
Too bad it hasn’t been doing just fine, then. It’s already been consigned to the bargain bin and categorised a ‘turkey’, which is a shame. It means we probably won’t get another one, and Banks’ Angels end this movie as though they’re only just getting started.
Maybe she can twist someone’s arm into signing off on a Sabina spin-off?
Anyone for Brie?