No one in their right mind would assume a film called “Charlie’s Angels” is going to be serious. The title alone calls to mind a certain era of television cheese, giant Farrah Fawcett hairdos and bubbly women speaking in unison to a radio. The bad news is that this new “Charlie’s Angels” is just as hilariously bad as the 2000 Hollywood original (itself a reboot of the original TV show). The good news is that the film is just as hilariously bad as the original and has a whole lot of fun in the process.
The good news is that the film is just as hilariously bad as the original and has a whole lot of fun in the process.
The cyclical revival of the “Charlie’s Angels” brand every 20 years isn’t accidental. The franchise concept, which ran as a TV series from 1976 to 1981, sounds on paper like a feminist idea. A group of women work as crime fighters for a private agency, taking down evil businessmen whose sexism often doesn’t allow them to perceive the threat until it’s too late. It’s Jane Bond and friends in the California sunshine. Except, of course, the show was nothing like that, with male executives and producers turning the idea into what became known at the time as “Jiggle TV.”
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As such, the conceit was ripe for reinvention, with the idea of women “reclaiming” these ultimately sexist portrayals fitting right into the third-wave feminism of the 1990s that suddenly found itself espoused by pop groups such as the Spice Girls. The first big screen version, in 2000, was proudly produced by a woman (Drew Barrymore, who also starred as one of the angels with Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu), but it was written and directed by men, and as such, still felt aimed directly at the male gaze.
This time, the central trio of Angels are Kristen Stewart as the party girl Sabina, Ella Balinska as the ultra-serious Jane, and Naomi Scott as the newbie Elena, a scientist whistleblower. Elena kicks off the adventure when she contacts the Townsend Agency to reveal the renewable energy devices her employer Alexander Brock (Sam Claflin) is bringing to market have a flaw in them, and it’s not just that they look like LED toys. They can be easily reprogrammed into deadly brain-killing bombs. Although she tried to sound the alarm, her superiors ignored her and now there are assassins (Jonathan Tucker), executives (Nat Faxon) and billionaires (Chris Pang) all chasing down the devices.
The film is written, directed and produced by Elizabeth Banks, who also stars as the angels’ manager, Bosley. For fans of the original(s), that may be a bit of a shock, as Bosley was always played by a man. Moreover, the trailers all implied Patrick Stewart was playing Bosley. But it turns out that as the Townsend Agency running the Angels program expanded into a global corporation, the term “Bosley” became a rank. At one point, Patrick Stewart, as the original John Bosley being feted on his way to retirement, finds himself in a room filled with dozens of Bosleys, with more beaming in from around the globe by satellite. In the end, they are all Bosley.
This moment typifies a film that revels in the silly, the tacky and the over-the-top. From the opening retirement scene, where Stewart’s head is loudly and obviously photoshopped over David Doyle’s in a 1976 promo shot for the original TV series and then again over Bill Murray in the 2000 and 2003 movies, this is a film hellbent on being ridiculous. (Don’t worry, there are “Star Trek: The Next Generation” visual references too.) But buried within the sublimely absurd are reminders that this is a film for women, by women.
These angels are certainly sexy, but never trashy, and always filmed to flatter, not exploit. The standard issue “presenting of weaponry” scene that exists in every Bond film is here reimagined complete with designer evening gowns, stilettos and deadly assassin gear that looks like it came from a Tiffany’s window. Women do find themselves running in high heels occasionally, but Kristen Stewart always takes a minute — when she’s about to kick some ass — to remove her shoes. There’s even a scene for the horse girl in all of us. And that’s all before the entire film stops dead around the three-quarter mark for a choreographed dance break to a remix of Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls.”
Buried within the sublimely absurd are reminders that this is a film for women, by women. These angels are certainly sexy, but never trashy.
It is also notable that this is the rare action-adventure film with women heroes but no “evil female villain” tropes. Instead, it turns out that every woman is on the same side, and those women include an absolute slew of celebrities, from original “Charlie’s Angels” actress Jaclyn Smith to Ronda Rousey and even Laverne Cox. (Stick around for the credits, you’ll be glad you did.) The angels themselves are by turns earnest in their desire to make the world better, and totally into the costume and wig fun, especially Stewart, who flexes her comedic chops and is a serial scene-stealer.
As is perhaps fitting for a “Charlie’s Angels” franchise reboot in this era, all the villains turn out to be men. They range from the kind of man who steals work from women to claim as their own, or the kind of man seething with rage because they feel women owe them something. It’s a lesson worth seeing on screen, even if it includes an absurd number of sequins. Whether or not the new version will be followed up by more angel action remains to be seen, but at least it has all the ridiculously tacky fun it can along the way.