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The reviews are in for Charlie’s Angels, actor/producer/director Elizabeth Banks’ reboot of the iconic television and film franchise that is set to hit theaters on Friday.
As in past iterations, 2019’s Charlie’s Angels centers on three female spies — played by Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska — who fight criminal conspiracies for an unknown millionaire boss named Charlie. However, as The Hollywood Reporter‘s Beandrea July wrote, Banks’ movie offers a “fresh, feminist spin” on a cherished story. Charlie’s Angels‘ updated narrative also highlights environmental issues.
“The result is a grand remodel that honors its precursors while elevating itself beyond them. Banks brings Charlie’s Angels into the modern age with flair, all while unapologetically raising a feminist flag, championing female friendships and subtly making a point about the urgency of the ongoing climate crisis,” July wrote, later adding how Stewart, Scott and Balinska’s characters “aren’t leading with cleavage or dumbing themselves down to shore up the egos of their clueless boyfriends like Angels of the past.”
“Rather, they express their femininity and sexuality in ways that give their characters depth and agency rather than reducing them to objects,” July wrote. “(The 2000 version of Charlie’s Angels, for example, has an entire scene of Cameron Diaz dancing wildly around her apartment in her underwear for no reason, her body offered up cheap for an objectifying male gaze.) The movie also wants us to know that Stewart’s character is queer, but it wisely reveals this without much fanfare or woke sketch comedy.”
July also noted how the film incorporates epic action scenes that the Angels are known for. “These Angels still kick ass. Banks peppers in the action-movie sequences that fans of this genre have come to expect, and they are well-plotted and paced. (The final comeuppance stands out as expertly choreographed and executed with ballet-like precision.)”
For The Guardian, critic Benjamin Lee writes that the film is a balancing act between comedy action, but that it falls short on both. He describes the action as “underwhelming,” noting that some sequences are “incoherently edited” whether they are fight scenes or car chases. Lee goes on to write that the script is “clunky,” with many one-liners that tank and a dynamic between the three central characters that “never truly sparks in the way that one would hope.”
Of Stewart’s character, Lee writes that she tries to have fun with the comedy despite the lacking screenplay, but that the exploration of her queer identity is not fleshed out as well as it could have been to truly provide visibility to the LGBTQ community. The critic writes that Balinska and Scott are “solid enough, bringing energy to less-fleshed out characters.” Lee concludes his review by noting that the film is “forgettable on reflection, but pacey in the moment, proving to be far less wretched a watch than so many other creatively bankrupt IP resurrections of late.”
The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips also emphasizes how Stewart handled the comedy in the script, noting that she “makes a private party out of every scrap of comic relief she’s given, scoring with an impressive percentage of her muttered asides and drive-by zingers.” Phillips goes on to write that the action is “OK,” though he wishes there were “more big payoffs and clever jokes as there are Bosleys” (he describes how Banks plays one Bosley, while others are portrayed by Patrick Stewart and Djimon Hounsou). Phillips gave the film two and a half stars.
In Forbes, Scott Mendelson writes that Charlie’s Angels doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, though it does “use the core premise to craft a refreshingly grounded and unexpectedly cynical little actioner that happens to feature three colorful female protagonists.” He further states that while the film takes a while to find itself and get past the setup and exposition, it turns into a “pulpy action comedy that doesn’t neglect either component.” The critic notes that the film relies less on the “male gaze” than past entries in the franchise, and though the characters do occasionally break into dance numbers, the set pieces are for the benefit of the characters. “It also holds back on the ‘sisterhood is important’ or ‘women can do anything’ monologues,” writes the critic.
Mendelson later writes that he wishes the villains “had been more colorful,” noting that that’s why the first Charlie’s Angels worked so well. He describes “an earned chemistry” between the three protagonists and calls the film a “pretty entertaining mid-budget action movie” that is good and different enough than its predecessors to justify its existence.
Collider’s Perri Nemiroff writes that the film is a “major improvement” on Banks’ last directorial offering, Pitch Perfect 2, though she “has a ways to go behind the lens.” The critic notes that the visuals are well-constructed, “further enhanced by vibrant production design and stunning costumes” — though Nemiroff emphasizes that the film lacks a cohesive style. “If you’re eager to figure out what an Elizabeth Banks movie looks like, this won’t be much help,” says the critic, adding that the director’s excitement and passion for the brand is a standout quality.
Nemiroff praises the “phenomenal supporting ensemble” who are well cast and make a real impression, and closes out her review by calling the film “a highly entertaining action comedy with a winning ‘close as sisters’ leading trio that also gives a big boost to the network of Angels.”
Richard Lawson writes in Vanity Fair that “the film’s chief nemesis is a simple question of why,” noting that there have already been two adaptations of the 1970s and ’80s detective series. “Nearly two decades later, we find ourselves aligned very differently with regard to the series’ sexual politics,” writes the critic, identifying this element as the reason to revisit Charlie’s Angels. He goes on to say that the film “lands in an awkward tonal place” due to its uncertainty whether to “venerate the brand or blow it up and start over.”
The critic later writes that the film “finds itself at a fraught intersection of commercial Hollywood feminism and the ritual celebration of cinematic violence,” noting that the movie itself is not ill-equipped to examine that dialogue, yet it is “unwilling.” He writes, “Male-led action movies have long been able to ignore political implications like that, so I suppose we ought to offer this film the same kind of pass. But Charlie’s does, in many scenes, frame itself as righteously of-the-moment, asserting a slick, contemporary sense of empowerment-through-beatdown that is often a fizzy kind of intoxicant. It’s amusing, and satisfying, watching the Angels serve it up to so many obnoxious men.”
In A.V. Club, Katie Rife writes that Stewart “easily gets the biggest laughs” in the film and that her role is “playfully realized, but limited in terms of action.” The critic goes on to say that Balinska is “the most skilled onscreen fighter of the three, as evidenced by the wider shots and longer takes when she fights a baddie one-on-one instead of in a group.” Rife adds that in dialogue scenes, however, she’s “overshadowed every time, and her joke delivery is leaden compared to that of the Stewarts or even Banks.” Rife continues, “As a result, both the comedy and the action are only intermittently effective, the latter further hampered by sloppy editing (both visual and auditory) and bad CGI explosions.”
Concluding her review, Rife writes that the overall look of the film “has the shiny, empty appearance of newly rehabbed condo, and the quips about women’s love of cheese and gigantic closets have a similarly hollow sassy greeting card feel. But the outfits, it must be said, are fabulous.”
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