During my undergraduate years at Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), one of my favorite things at the campus was the weekly screening of recently released movies at the campus hall. Although the screening condition was not exactly that good, I watched a number of different films including “Snatch” (2000) and “X-Men” (2000) for free, and I enjoyed some of them while not liking others much.
One of more forgettable flicks I watched during that period was “Charlie’s Angels” (2000), which mildly entertained me but did not leave much impression on the whole due to its rather bland story and characterization. To be frank with you, at present, I vaguely remember a few notable things in the film including Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Bill Murray, and Sam Rockwell, who subsequently rose onto better things during next 20 years including his supporting Oscar-winning turn in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” (2017).
And that was the main reason why I was not interested much in watching the 2019 film of the same name, which, according to Wikipedia, is the third installment of the series following the 2000 film and “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)”. After the movie received mixed reactions from critics and audiences in November 2019, I became less interested in watching it, but I happened to give it a chance today anyway, and I report to you that it is not as bad as I thought despite being not good enough for recommendation.
The premise is pretty familiar if you have ever watched the 2000 film or the popular American TV drama series of the same name developed by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts. Under the leadership of a mysterious figure called ‘Charlie’ and the assistance of John Bosley (Patrick Stewart) and other “Bosleys” around the world, a bunch of female agents named “Angels” have accomplished many risky missions, and the opening scene shows the latest mission of Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) and other Angels including Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) at a certain private spot in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Once everything is set for action, they swiftly swoop onto their target, and the aftermath is smoothly handled by Bosley as usual.
When Bosley retires not long after that, Sabina and Jane happen to be assigned together to a small mission in Hamburg, Germany, which, of course, turns out to be far more serious than expected. Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott), a young programmer/engineer who has worked in a big, revolutionary technology project of her company, recently finds a fatal flaw in the final result of her project, but her direct boss, who is your average sexist prick, rudely disregards her reports, and then she comes to know about Charlie’s agency, which may help her dealing with this difficult circumstance of hers.
All Elena wants is simply stopping the project before it is too late, but it turns out that there are some people willing to stop her by any means necessary, and Sabina and Jane quickly go onto action mode as required in addition to getting some help from Rebekah “Bosley” (Elizabeth Banks), a former Angel who became one of Charlie’s assistants. Once they and Elena are in a safe house provided by Rebekah, they promptly embark on planning how to stop and defeat their opponents, and Elena finds herself doing a lot more than expected as a potential new Angel.
As rolling its lead characters from one place to another, the screenplay by director/co-producer/writer Elizabeth Banks, which is based on the story by Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn, tries to imbue female empowerment and solidarity into the film via several lightweight moments such as when our ladies enjoy some food together at one point, but it does not fill its main characters with enough life and personality, and it consequently under-utilizes the considerable talents of its three lead female cast members, who seem to be enjoying playing together on the screen but do not have many things to do except filing their respective roles as demanded. Although I appreciate her diligent effort to expand her acting range into a more lightweight area, Kristen Stewart is often awkward in her attempts to be funny and care-free, and Naomi Scott, who recently drew our attention with her notable appearance in “Aladdin” (2019), is unfortunately stuck in her colorless role, and Ella Balinska manages to bring some feisty spirit to her character at least.
Furthermore, the movie is also disappointing in case of its other substantial performers. While Banks surely knows how to deliver humorous lines for good laughs, her supporting role is merely functional to say the least, and the same thing can be said about Djimon Hounsou, Nat Faxon, Jonathan Tucker, Sam Claflin, and Patrick Stewart, who handles his thankless part with considerable gusto as shown from the opening scene.
Overall, “Charlie’s Angels”, which is Banks’ second feature film after “Pitch Perfect 2” (2015), is not a total dud mainly thanks to the game efforts from Banks and her cast and crew members, but I wish it would deliver its gender subjects with more humor, spirit, skill, and personality. As a filmmaker, Banks is not incompetent at all, but several action sequences in the film are pedestrian at best without much wit and originality, and that made me appreciate more of what Cathy Yen recently achieved in “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” (2020). Sure, the movie is not as lousy as some say, and I do not feel like wasting my time a lot, but I would rather recommend you to watch “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” instead.