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Charlie's Angels review - feminism-lite action comedy | reviews, news & interviews

Charlie's Angels review - feminism-lite action comedy

Charlie's Angels review - feminism-lite action comedy

Non-stop rollercoaster is more fun than the US box office suggests

Hello Angels: Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott

“Badass” – as applied to dynamic women – and “girl power” may be the kinds of exhausted clichés that are reductive in the #MeToo and Time’s Up era, but the new Charlie’s Angels movie revitalises the attitude they describe in a way that’s neither condescending nor retrogressive. Hunger Games actor Elizabeth Banks’s second feature as a director, and the first she’s written, is a pleasurably larky action rollercoaster that makes the most of its lowballed feminism. 

The three crime-busting warriors this time work for the European branch of the LA-based Charles Townsend Detective Agency. They are played by Kristen Stewart and British actresses Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott (Aladdin). Individually and collectively, they’re a far cry from the trios played by Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson, and Jaclyn Smith in the initial incarnation of the 1976-81 ABC series (Cheryl Ladd, Shelley Hack, and Tanya Roberts were later draftees) and by Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu in the 2000 and 2003 movies. The short-lived film franchise reconditioned the Angels concept as high-octane, sexually objectifying trash in which Diaz, acting with her bottom as much as her face, was especially complicit.

The 2019 reboot doesn’t take itself any more seriously than the last two, but it’s less demeaningly vulgar, more empowering. Her comic timing perfect, Stewart is nicely insouciant as Sabina, formerly an institutionalised delinquent and self-confessed head case who recasts the Angel stereotype as an androgynous 21st century riot grrrl with an unfashionable passion for junk food. Balinska’s Jane is a fierce, leather-clad ex-MI6 operative who in her fights never breaks sweat (Diaz’s Angel was once gratuitously slicked with it); and Scott’s Elena is a hesitant, ultra-girly rookie who toughens up as she learns the ropes. Banks coolly plays their supervising “Bosley”, the senior Bosley (Patrick Stewart, playing “Patrick Stewart”) having apparently retired with a commemorative wristwatch early in the proceedings.  Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott in Charlie's AngelsThe story – as restless as a backpacking millennial or an 007 adventure – unfolds in Rio, Paris, Hamburg, London, Berlin, Istanbul (at a racetrack and a neighbouring rock quarry), and Chamonix. It’s one long Hitchcockian McGuffin. Before being recruited by Banks’s Bosley, the brilliant computer scientist Elena informs another Bosley (Djimon Hounsou) that the off-the-grid electricity-generating cube she programmed is easily weaponised and will soon be clandestinely marketed by her corrupt boss (Sam Claflin) and the CEO (Nat Faxon) whose multinational is sponsoring him. The latter, unrepentantly sexist, spoofs corporate woke-speak when he tells Elena at the end of a meeting about the cube’s design flaw, “Let’s not get caught up in who said what.”

Elena’s Angel identity requires her to wear pretty, cleavage-revealing dresses while keeping up with the movie’s rapid-fire hairstyle changes. There’s also copious hemline-flipping, bra-strap-baring, and shoe-fetishising. This is less a treat for voyeurs than Banks’s clarification that women can wear the hell what they want while crashing motorbikes and chop-socking male heavies. 

They can also be other than what men want them to be. Sabina demonstrates this at the outset when she morphs suddenly from a teasing blonde sex kitten (merely a disguise) into an Amazon with legs for pincers, to the consternation of the playboy smuggler (Chris Pang) who assumed he was getting lucky. Stewart plays Sabina as nobody’s Angel and she’s all the better for it, though in the film’s single emotional scene she’s moved by Jane’s revelation that she actually likes her. 

Since Charlie’s Angels failed miserably at the American box office, Sabina and Jane won’t be teaming up with the evolving Elena again. However, Banks remains a highly promising director of funny, gutsy films that mess with genre tropes, and she may have much more up her sleeve than that.

Sabina morphs suddenly from a teasing blonde sex kitten into an Amazon with legs for pincers

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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