Charlie’s Angels 2019 Reboot – Does It Fly High?
Cameron, Drew, Lucy Liu. Three icons of 90s and 00s cinema and television selected to be the elite private investigators in both 2000s Charlie’s Angels films. The two feature films from 2000 and 2003 were hot properties 20 years ago, with the three stars bouncing chemistry and charisma of each other and the rest of the cast, and bringing the goofy early 00s humour to life.
In 2019 the reboot of the movies based on the 70s television show was released, with much less charisma and goofy antics.
The original series beginning in 1976 was a product of its time given its launch during a strong era of second wave feminism. Much like the quickly cancelled television reboot in 2011, and the movies that followed, the basic premises follows three female leads undertaking detective work, chasing down bad guys, and using their femininity and sex appeal to their advantage. This includes showcasing how independent and capable they are with and without the use of their sexualisation.
This is the same for the 2019 reboot. Except, the reboot framed it differently. It was less about their sexual appeal and abilities as individuals, and more so about their collective strength as “sisters” in a worldwide network of other Angels.
Elizabeth Banks wrote the screenplay and directed the 2019 reboot, while also starring in it. Following a quick IMDb search, it was noted that this is the first time in the franchise’s history that there is a female director and writer on the property. The direction and camera are adjusted because of this. There is a particular emphasis on the leads that doesn’t frame their curves, and the director adjusts the lens to prevent overt sexualisation or oogling by audience members. The emphasis of the story promotes female empowerment, moreso than any of the other iterations. The Angels are constantly told to find their inner strength and that they’re more special than they have always been lead to believe. And that’s obviously an important message to believe and to accept, however, it is interesting to note that if you look at the 00s movies, the Angels already knew that. They knew they were capable, and were confident with themselves, and used that to help stop the bad guys. Hell, even the villains did it in both the first film, and in 2003’s Full Throttle. They didn’t need others telling them how capable and strong they were, they just got in and did the work they needed to do.
In a way, the reboot feels some parts regressive in its themes because of its somewhat condescending tone of “female empowerment”. Of course it’s necessary to highlight inequalities, and many issues that women face that I can’t fully comprehend. However, the 00s movies came out during third wave feminism, in the same few years as other iconic “female empowerment” movies like Legally Blonde, Miss Congeniality, Bend It Like Beckham, and Kill Bill Vol 1 and Vol 2. Television shows at the time were also highlighting that women can be just as powerful, if not moreso, than the men around them, shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Charmed, Alias, and even Kim Possible all gave us charismatic and complex leads that dealt with many issues of the day while also providing icons and heroes plenty still look up to today.
The release of the reboot of Charlie’s Angels comes during the fourth wave feminism movement and the #MeToo era, which is important, and is highlighted during the movie and its plot themes given one of the Angels goes through several moments of sexual harassment in the workplace.
However, given the 70s source material and the 00s goofy and camp qualities, the reboot might take itself too seriously at times without also leaning into the comedy. It’s less of a comedy than what’s come before, but it doesn’t feel enough of a Jason Bourne/James Bond private investigation type action film either.
It also feels at times like all three of the Angels could be replaced with one another given the little to no development any of them get. In the 00s each lead brought their own quirks to the characters, Diaz as Natalie was the bubbly and awkward “face” of the operation, Barrymore as Dylan was the rebellious and wild “muscle” but also provided the heart of both films, and Liu as Alex was the “brains” and tech-savvy wiz. In the beginning of both films we see a small 00s montage of each Angels’ upbringing, and immediately it gives us a sense of who our leads are and how they will behave and act.
In the reboot, Kristen Stewart was the highlight of the film. Her character, Sabina, is a mix of Diaz and Barrymore, being the “face” of the operation while also being a rebellious Angel. I found myself really enjoying her character the most, and I wanted her to be the sole lead, seeing her take down bad guys was enjoyable. She was funny and charismatic but still presented a vulnerability to the character.
Ella Balinska plays Jane, a former spec-op that also had the Barrymore character traits given she was the “muscle”. Her character doesn’t get along with Sabina and apart from using guns multiple times, there wasn’t much depth provided. There was a particular scene when she is trapped with Noah Centineo in a laboratory, and suddenly she is also a chemistry wiz and expert, something not previously shown. It’s great to see Angels be resourceful and come up with plans of escape, but sometimes it feels like they cut corners in character backstory and development.
Naomi Scott (whose Kimberly the Pink Power Ranger in the reboot of Power Rangers I really liked and want to see more of) plays Elena, an engineer and tech-specialist and is supposed to be the audience surrogate of sorts. She has the smarts and is akin to Liu’s Alex Munday from the 00s. Except, Elena can’t fight, not like the other two leads. If she was the lead trapped in the laboratory I would have had no problem expecting that she would come up with the same escape plan as Jane did given the laboratory is in her workplace, and she’s been shown to be the “brains”.
I was a bit disappointed overall with the action of the film. Sure there weren’t any physics-defying stuntwork (looking at you alley fight scene in Charlie’s Angels, and you BMX explosion on to another BMX bike in Full Throttle), but the reboot Angels have a heavy reliance on guns. I remember reading that Barrymore, who served as a producer of the 00s films, didn’t want the 00s Angels to use guns, and instead use their wits and minds to defeat the bad guys, while also kicking ass.
It felt more generic in the reboot to see the Angels using guns, especially considering the film doesn’t give us clear differences in the Angels. They can all fight, they are all smart, they are all the same and mash together in a way that takes the charm out of who they are as characters, and makes the audience feel less attached or empathetic to their cause and I don’t feel as concerned if something happens to one of them because I can tell at least the other two are able to pick up the slack and don’t need whatever qualities the third lead might have.
In Full Throttle we’re given time without Barrymore’s Dylan, thinking she’s left the Angels because of the mess she’s made. That resonated because they had built the story around her and her past and the audience were given stakes to prove that all three Angels needed to be together to get the job done and to help take down the bad guys, not just two of them. In this film, however, we’re not given much of a lead to follow, and in the third act we’re given only two Angels to try take down the bad guys, but by that point, who cares? We’ve seen them do this by themselves flawlessly, barely taking a scratch, and it seems like even without one or another they will be able to pick up the slack and not run into obstacles which from a storytelling perspective, would have provided conflict and suited the situation to help the leads grow and develop.
The reboot has its advantages in some themes, as mentioned, it’s important that they go down the empowering women mantra, but it feels as though the story they’re telling gets messy quickly, and it goes from morals and themes from one to another without laying the groundwork appropriately to provide the audience with something to take away from. The other issue is that they don’t make the movie into a condensed one story arc, and instead tease the potential for sequels without first winning audience favour.
This new lore and universe of the reboot of Angels could benefit from a sequel as they do provide a new and fresh take on the Townsend Agency as a global network, and present interesting ideas that I would have liked to see more of. However, if you look at the first Charlie’s Angels film, there was a beginning, a middle, and an end. Three separate acts that didn’t bleed together. Villains you think are dead appear in the sequel, and sure that’s glossed over quickly, but there were two distinct stories between both films, while still being a natural progression of character arcs and stories. I would have preferred a three-quel to the 00s movies over the reboot, but the reboot does provide a good foundation for a sequel if it were ever greenlit. If it were, give me more of Kristen Stewart’s Sabina.
Maybe the reboot will be a good introduction to younger generations who want a more modern take on the Angels, and overall, it works for entertainment purposes but compared to the original films does not hold the same lasting cultural impact. 20 years later we see Cameron, Drew and Lucy Liu on The Drew Barrymore Show and the Internet goes wild. They’re the Angels we’ll all remember for the next few decades, but who knows, maybe a sequel or another reboot in a few years’ time will learn from the issues of the 2019 movie and will give audiences the growth we desire.