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Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott star in Charlie's Angels.

Merie Weismiller Wallace/Sony Pictures

  • Charlie’s Angels
  • Written and directed by: Elizabeth Banks
  • Starring: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska
  • Classification: PG; 118 minutes

rating

Deep inside the new Charlie’s Angels movie, there is a fun film struggling to breathe. There are momentary flashes of energy, of wit, of something sorta-kinda-maybe resembling entertainment. But every time writer-director Elizabeth Banks’s reboot threatens to come alive, it immediately falls to the floor, leaden and lifeless.

Common wisdom would lay most of the blame with the film’s conception: Sixteen years after the last big-screen Charlie’s Angels, who was really in need of another mission? Yet the only surprise with a Charlie’s Angels 3.0, or whatever we’re calling it, is that it took so long to happen in the first place. The idea of three highly skilled women taking down bad guys on the orders of a mysterious benefactor is a fine enough one to revisit, repeat and rework – certainly, the past few years have been crowded with worse, more malignantly intentioned franchise resurrections. But in bringing back the Angels for today’s audiences, Banks and her team have gone wildly, egregiously off-course.

New in theatres this weekend: The flat Ford v Ferrari, the con The Good Liar and the unheavenly Charlie’s Angels

This is an action movie without action. A comedy without laughs. An empowerment tale that threatens to disenfranchise. Everything that Charlie’s Angels seemingly hoped to accomplish in its inception is instantly reversed once executed. The end result is almost remarkable. Late into the dying days of 2019, we have been gifted the first ever anti-film.

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Mostly, it’s an issue of tone. Scene to scene, Charlie’s Angels is unsure as to what it wants to be. There are scattered hints that Banks aimed to make something of a meta alt-comedy, which makes sense given her background on projects such as Wet Hot American Summer and the Pitch Perfect films (yes, I will go to bat for the a-capella-centric trilogy, which is genuinely weird and delightful).

As characters, the three Angels are ciphers – the funny one, the serious one and the smart one.

Merie Weismiller Wallace/Sony Pictures

Throughout Charlie’s Angels, Banks inserts a handful of dark gags and peppers her star Kristen Stewart’s dialogue with off-hand digs at the ridiculousness of what’s happening on-screen. Yet every such attempt at humour is immediately undercut, either by odd editing decisions or abrupt plot swerves that reek of creative cold feet. Or maybe postproduction malfeasance. Either way, the film acts as its own heckler.

We could spend a lot more time talking about the strangely flat action scenes – when you set a film in Germany and have your heroes hop into a Lamborghini, don’t you want to then send them on a thrilling chase on the Autobahn? Charlie’s Angels is here to say: nein – the total ciphers that the heroes remain to the bitter end. (Stewart is the funny one, Ella Balinska is the serious one and Naomi Scott is the smart one. That’s it.)

We could also spend hours (all right, maybe just a few minutes) questioning why, when given the total open sandbox of the feature-film storytelling, Banks chose to rehash so much of the original movies’ plots, which were not exactly inspired to begin with. There’s the creepy and wordless assassin with stylish hair (Crispin Glover the first time around, Jonathan Tucker here), the next-gen tech plot MacGuffin (voice-recognition software in 2000, an electromagnetic pulse device here) and the good guy who goes bad (Sam Rockwell way back when, and now another big-name actor whose name I won’t reveal, but only because I’m so very tired).

Just because your movie is based on a campy television show and deep into sequel territory doesn’t mean that you’re afforded the easiness of low audience expectations – the Mission: Impossible films are out in the world right now, proving exactly the opposite.

But the more serious and insulting misstep of Banks’s film is its confusion of progressive politics with regressive action. Similar to this past spring’s Captain Marvel, Charlie’s Angels pushes its feminism bona fides hard and fast. The first words uttered on-screen are, “I think women can do anything.” A few minutes later, there’s a cheery montage of young girls from around the world laughing, learning, dancing, snowboarding, bicycling, swimming, yeah! But then the movie proceeds to distill feminism into ... the ability to act as an unchecked paramilitary force of bad-asses who kill for a living? The power to exhibit exactly one character trait? An appreciation for cheese and a passion for vocalizing said desire as though you were a talking coffee mug found at HomeSense?

Banks’s camera certainly avoids the pervy leer of her franchise predecessor McG, who spent so much of his 2000 and 2003 films focused on Cameron Diaz’s underwear. But if this ostensibly more socially conscious Charlie’s Angels actually wants to escape its intellectual property’s patriarchal past – this is all based on an Aaron Spelling show that opened with the words, “Once upon a time there were three little girls who went to the police academy ... but I took them away from all of that and now they work for me” – then it needs to treat its heroes as actual characters worth investing in, not narratively convenient objects.

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Don’t cry for these Angels – they’re already dead.

Charlie’s Angels opens Nov. 15

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