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Chris Knight: Feminism of 'Charlie's Angels' is applaudable, but premise remains as stilted as ever


One hundred and fifteen episodes of Charlie’s Angels aired on ABC between 1976 and 1981. Among all of them, the two-hour pilot and two movies (2000 and 2003), one thing remained constant. The director was always a man.

Elizabeth Banks has finally changed all that with the release of the newest reboot, confusingly also called Charlie’s Angels. Alas, the film also confirms that men don’t have a monopoly on so-so entertainment.

If anything, 2019 Charlie’s Angels feels remarkably similar to 1980s James Bond. There’s a similar mix of exotic locations (Rio, Hamburg, London, Istanbul), ritzy events (horse races, mansion parties), cool gadgets (knock-out Altoids), fast cars, big guns, homing beacons, robust assassins, villains in plain site, and endless henchmen. Really, all that’s missing are silly names and sexism.

Kristen Stewart and Ella Balinska star as Sabina and Jane, two employees of the Townsend Agency, which now has worldwide reach and even a network of Bosleys, which we’re told is more of a rank than a name. Banks plays one such lieutenant, with Djimon Hounsou as another, and Patrick Stewart as the recently retired original Bosley.

Naomi Scott graces the poster alongside Stewart and Balinska, but her character, Elena Houghlin, is actually more of an Angel-in-the-wings, receiving protection with some training on the side after being targeted by her employer for blowing the whistle on some potentially dangerous tech. That would be the Calisto project, a lazy bit of screenwriting that is supposed to solve the world’s energy problems but can also be weaponized. It’s basically a Solex agitator, to reference a Bond film even older than the Angels franchise.

The Angels are arrayed against a number of unmemorable devils, including Chris Pang as “rich jerk,” Nat Faxon as “toxic boss,” and Jonathan Tucker as “cold-blooded killer.” Though I was a little disturbed by the careless ways in which some of the lesser characters were dispatched. Poor Ralph the security guard (David Schütter) was only doing his security-guard job, for Pete’s sake!

If you can get past the casual violence, there are also oodles of fun moments in the film, from audiovisual callbacks to the original series and a wonderful cameo.

And it’s nice to see Angels framed by a female gaze for a change. Recalling director McG’s Charlie’s Angels from 2000, I was reminded of how much screen time was given to Cameron Diaz’s posterior. And the original Angels, for all its feminist trappings, relied on a lot of jiggle.

Season 1 star Farrah Fawcett once remarked: “When the show was number three, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.” Compare that to the new Angels, in which the undergarments are bulletproof and, according to Stewart’s character, don’t even dig: “Progress!”

But aside from its best-supporting accolades, Charlie’s Angels does little to advance the series. Stewart is amusingly wonky as the filterless, easily distracted Sabina, although her so-called interpersonal problems with Jane are sketchy. And Scott does a nice job of a computer wizard finding her inner Angel. I hate to play Devil’s advocate here, but I just wish the final product was a little more creative, and a little more fun.

2 stars

Charlie’s Angels opens across Canada on Nov. 15.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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