I never saw the 2000 film adaptation of the Charlie's Angels television series, nor the 2003 sequel though I have seen a few episodes of the 1970's series. Now with this reboot, I am at a loss to understand why writer/director/producer/actress Elizabeth Banks is so thoroughly convinced that misandry is equivalent to female empowerment. Charlie's Angels is disorganized and slightly boring with no reason for being apart from telling the world how terrible men are.
Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) is an engineer at Brock Enterprises who has serious concerns about Calisto, a revolutionary electrical power system that can be weaponized to kill. She is overruled in presenting her concerns to CEO Alexander Brock (Sam Clafin) by her mansplaining sexist boss Peter Fleming (Nat Faxon).
In need of help, Elena is shepherded towards the Angels of the Townsend Agency, an international security agency with an all-female agent crew. A master assassin named Hodak (Jonathan Tucker) is assigned to assassinate Elena but she is rescued by two Angels: the wild Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and the more methodical Jane (Ella Balinska). Aided by "Bosley 342" (Banks), Elena finds herself something of an Angel herself as she now works with them to find Calisto prototypes and reprogram them to make them incapable of being used to cause strokes or heart attacks, the perfect assassination weapon.
There's evil afoot though, as there is a mole within the Townsend Agency. Could it be Bosley 342? Could it be John Bosley (Patrick Stewart), the original Bosley recently retired from the agency whose name became a rank in the organization? The trio travel the world from Istanbul to the south of France to stop Calisto and the evil men bent on destruction.
Elizabeth Banks is someone whose work I am not too familiar with. As such I can't say whether she is a good actress, a good writer or a good director based solely on one film. I can say that this effort is confused and at times nonsensical. As I kept watching, I was forever puzzled as to why Elena was essentially playing Angel when she had little to no training. Why they opted to throw someone as inexperienced as Elena into life and death situations seemed strange to me.
Granted, perhaps that was explained during the time I struggled to stay awake, but given that was when the Angels were fighting in a quarry I don't see how we ever got a reasonable explanation.
Moreover, Charlie's Angels seems to tie itself into needless knots. It's one thing to have Jacklyn Smith make a cameo appearance at the end, but why did Banks and company decide to tie Patrick Stewart's John Bosley into both the television and 2000/2003 film versions too via digitally-altered photographs? Why not just start fresh?
That curiosity is compounded by the bloat Charlie's Angels has. Take the character of Langston (Noah Centineo). He appears briefly in one scene as a scientist within Brock Enterprises who helps Jane escape when she, Sabina and Elena disguise their way into the corporate offices to find Calisto. We then see him as the traitor's prisoner, shocking Elena. However, there is not enough time to establish him as a character of interest. One could argue we should be concerned for Langston because his life is in danger, but to be fair Charlie's Angels could have picked any random person to use as a human shield.
The twists Charlie's Angels wants to give us as to who the traitor is seems set on being less red herrings and more oddball. The film slogs its way into giving us a 'shocking' twist that isn't all that shocking and that again given the almost 'blink-and-you-miss-it' appearance almost a bit of a cheat.
This trio of Angels does not seem to have that 'sisterhood' it wants us to believe it has. They never really gel as a group, let alone as friends. Scott is the best of the lot, as her Elena was both relatable and even had moments of humor as she handled the situations she faced. Balinska is also quite good as Jane to where you wouldn't mind a film with just her as the sole lead. She does much better than the material, though she is given more to do.
Stewart's take on some kind of quippy wild-child is so forced that it is not believable. Her Sabina comes across as almost inept, more interested in rattling bad one-liners than in being a whip-smart secret agent. I keep getting told how Stewart is this exceptional actress (Actress of the Decade according to the Hollywood Critics Association). Charlie's Angels does not provide evidence that she is the Actress of the Month, let alone entire Decade.
It seems for a film that has women at the forefront it's the men who seem to be having the most fun. Stewart and Clafin are camping it up for all its worth as the original Bosley and simultaneously evil and dimwitted corporate executive. To be fair, Clafin would never make my Actor of the Decade shortlist, but he seemed to be having a wild time playing a vaguely-Sir Richard Branson-type billionaire. Stewart too appeared to having a hoot as the nefarious former Townsend Agency second in command.
I had mentioned how Charlie's Angels has a heart of misandry in it. Right from the get-go when we hear in voiceover how "women can do exactly the same thing men can", the film seems more interested in lecturing the viewer than in entertaining viewers of either gender. The idea that men dismiss women due to their sexism was already covered in of all things The Hustle, but that was a comedy...of sorts. We have a scene where Elena's evil boss is both dismissive of her intelligence (despite her being crucial to Calisto's creation) and "mansplaining" how she was wrong. There's a moment when a Brock security guard advises a disguised Elena to "smile more".
Banks doubled and tripled down on this view of men being perpetually at war with women, which she's free to do. However, why work so hard to tell potential audience members you're trying to bring in that they are horrible just by existing?
Charlie's Angels is not fun or insightful. A sequel, let alone a whole new franchise is doubtful, which is a shame for Scott and Balinska. Without the burdens of Stewart and Banks, perhaps we could see the rise of better Angels.