Film Reviews

Saving Mrs. Banks, or the Tragedy of CHARLIE’S ANGELS

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CHARLIE’S ANGELS has bombed at the box office, taking in just $8 million on a $48 million budget, and the ironically-named Elizabeth Banks has been left scratching her head—how could this happen? Surely an IP like this is ready-built for a vaguely feminist retrofitting? Banks is operating straight from the CAPTAIN MARVEL playbook: deploy male characters who are cartoonishly stupid or duplicitous, have said male characters demand the women protagonists “smile,” and generally pepper in themes of sisterhood and solidarity. Banks’ movie is awful—hideously photographed with boilerplate action and a script that genuinely does not make any sense at all. The actress-cum-auteur has sabotaged herself with her cast: Kristen Stewart—who notoriously stepped away from the Twilight franchise to build an impressive indie resume—Naomi Scott,  whose only other big role was in this year’s ALADDIN, a production that everybody seems to have forgotten about before it even came out—and Ella Balinska who is… making her debut. It’s really no wonder the film bombed.

Banks has publicly confessed to conceiving of films as business operations, which checks out, since her attempt to visualize misogyny relies solely on recognizable instances of it, like a scene where Scott’s Elena is condescended to and harassed by her boss—discrimination that can be easily comprehended and digested. A braver film might’ve explored the transition from subjection to institutional misogyny to the spy lifestyle, in which inheres the potentially therapeutic effect of exacting vengeance on mass amounts of “bad guys.” But Banks does not engage with the womens’ rage; she seems afraid to even acknowledge it. The Angels, badass as they are, never kill anyone, lest the audience become discomfited. I’m not advocating murder, but it does seem curiously chaste for a movie in which many, many men are shooting at our protagonists. Feminism is women who are intimidating but not threatening, bloodthirsty but not murderous, Banks tells us. CHARLIE’S ANGELS pulls all of its punches, when it should be doling them out incessantly.

Charlie's Angels cold weather

Tough location weather. Looks cold.

The Calysto clean energy bio weapon is a satisfactory Macguffin, but the stakes of its potential impact—political assassinations, covert regime change—are never felt. The action in the movie is similarly stale and bloodless, and Banks’ close-up, frenetic framing renders it nearly unwatchable. Far be it from me to chastise films for technical follies, least of all for some so trivial, but CHARLIE’S ANGELS has some of the worst muzzle flares I can remember seeing in a blockbuster. Mini, saturated explosions pounding out from the mouths of gun barrels. The great Bill Pope, who lensed classics like THE MATRIX and SPIDER-MAN 2, turns in shockingly muddy work, though how much of the visual failures rests on him versus the director or editor is unclear.

Charlie's Angels trio

“There’s only one Academy Award left in the entire world and we’ve gotta go find it”

CHARLIE’S ANGELS is pitched as a part-comedy, but in practice can’t deliver more than two chuckles, courtesy of the Angels’ thickly-accented, resident chiropractor/trainer/chef/psychotherapist. Kristen Stewart is excruciatingly bored, and apparently has not even been bothered to read the script. There are moments when she will clearly ad-lib not jokes but plot details, and it’s jaw-dropping to witness; little oversight has been exercised on the narrative thrust of the film. Patrick Stewart is here, spending his scenes cautiously eyeing the rifle pointed at him just out of frame. Naomi Scott is a fine actress with an expressive face, and she’s giving it her best shot. Ella Balinska is… very pretty.

Could Mrs. Banks have avoided financial ruin at the box office? Maybe. Trends have indicated that audiences are less likely to show up to reboots or remakes, especially to properties over 30 years old—TERMINATOR: DARK FATE and DOCTOR SLEEP both were somnambulant at the box office. Of course, nobody knows what on Earth Charlie’s Angels is these days, especially Generation Z (“Who the fuck is this ‘Charlie’ fella?”) and Banks’ outing assumes the viewer’s familiarity with the conceit of the TV show or the previous film entries. It’s also unclear why Banks felt the need to use a dated property to tell a story about sisterhood and solidarity. There are plenty of ways to do that—and plenty of films are doing that nowadays—without the chauvinist baggage of the property. Would an original idea have made for a better movie? Well, yes, probably; anything would’ve been preferable to the tragic career-ender we’ve just been served.

Luka Stojcic
When he's not too busy smoking pipe tobacco and daydreaming about being the reincarnation of Vladimir Lenin, Luka enjoys writing confrontational screenplays, reading books he'll never remember, and searching for ancient artifacts in the mouths of erupting geysers.

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