RogerBW's Blog

Charlie's Angels (2019) 14 March 2020

2019 thriller, dir. Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott; IMDb / allmovie.

The Townsend Agency is a covert international force for justice. Now they have to prevent a new technology from being turned into a universal assassination tool.

Yeah, it's time once more to dig up this long-defunct franchise, wait for a lightning bolt, and send it lurching out to terrify a new generation of villagers. But this time they did something revolutionary and actually let some women have some input into the story.

The result can be preachy, certainly, but I don't think it's any more preachy than the endless parade of grunty macho action films, that will tell you that the individual or the warband is the only good and that women need to be rescued by men. Much more importantly to me, this film is interesting: for all the threat could have come from James Bond or its many imitators, there's a little more to it than "have fight A, find clue that leads to fight B", and there are characters who are there for more than dispensing of plot tokens and sex.

"There was a gunfight at my wedding." "Wait, you're married?" "No, I was the better shot."

And yes, there's also an effective depiction of casual sexism, and most of the men here are either villains or fairly pathetic. (But hey, it's not as though there's any shortage of the other sort of film.) I think this is why the film did relatively badly: it insisted on reminding the viewer that not all casual sexists are great big nasty villains, normal men can be casual sexists too, and that made audiences uncomfortable.

I'm not any kind of expert on the male gaze, but it feels to me as though the framing of shots here is much more about young attractive women doing well-choreographed and convincing-looking fighting moves than it is simply about young attractive women showing off for the straight male audience. No slow-motion hair toss or gratuitous bikini shots to introduce these characters, the way the 2000 film needed to. There are also some superb metallic dresses (costume design by Kym Barrett).

As for the performances, Kristen Stewart runs away with the show in something quite different from the roles she's mostly known for, and Banks does a solid job when she's on screen (but she doesn't grab too much of it).

It's certainly not perfect; it's a big dumb thriller with a few too many shaky plot elements. But it manages to be actually thrilling as well as big and dumb, which too many thrillers forget to do.

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