By John H. Foote
Though I do not place myself into the elitist (snobby) plateau of film critic who looks down on pure entertainment films, made for the popcorn crowd, I do confess to appreciating films that have something to say, that attempt to reflect society in some way. For me the greatest films have in some way ennobled the art form by exploring humanity, by exploring or documenting society, holding up a mirror, either positive or negative. But I also know not everyone goes that way, some people look upon films as pure entertainment. I accept that.
Every once in awhile a popcorn film proves to be an absolutely delightful two hours of entertainment we do not have to think about. We can place our brains in the fridge, go on auto-pilot and just enjoy the film for what it is.
How do I feel after seeing such a film? One that is far better than it has a right to be?
More in love with movies than ever because I recognize the mastery of The Irishman, Jojo Rabbit, and Marriage Story, but also get why people will enjoy Charlie’s Angels.
At TIFF this year I screened Hustlers, which was such a film, pure entertainment. Great fun.
Those feelings swept over me after watching this reboot of the previous two films that represented film versions of the iconic seventies TV series that launched Farrah Fawcett into the stratosphere as a pop culture pin-up girl. The previous two films featured Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Iu and Bill Murray, who apparently delighted in tormenting Liu. The first of two remakes seemed to exist to showcase the butt of Cameron Diaz, and like the box office take of the second film, it was pretty underwhelming. Neither film made much of an impression either with audiences or critics, though the first made enough money to warrant a second. That sequel ended any chance of a franchise.
Actress Elizabeth Banks directs and wrote this new version, along with taking a supporting role to the Angels as Bosley, the go-between for the mysterious Charlie and his angels.
Now let me be clear before I write another word.
This film will not be competing for Academy Awards, it will not re-define film as art, but I was thoroughly involved, laughed often and was entertained throughout. It does make some comments on female empowerment and feminism, but this film exists to entertain. The action sequences are big and bold, the actresses are clearly having a blast, and that should spill down into the audience. It is paint by numbers filmmaking, which Banks handles like a veteran director, which she is not. It leaves me excited for the film which challenges her.
“Women can do anything” speaks Sabina (Kristen Stewart) the first line in the film and by the end of the movie, I believed her. Mind you, I have always known women are smarter and stronger than men are, and once guys accept that, life can be pretty great. The girls are spies, which we know going in, working for a mysterious superpower named Charlie, who hands out assignments over the phone.
A brilliant young scientist, Elena (Naomi Scott) has created something that could aid with sustainable energy but she is terrified villains will find a way to weaponize it. In fact, villains have already learned about it, this thing called Calisto and began to move to deal with Elena and Calisto. The Angles, Sabina, and Jane (Ella Balinska) are assigned to protect Elena and groom her for work as a globe-trotting Angel. Stunned by the array of designer clothing and disguises at the fingertips of the Angels, she is not hard to convince, though the daring of the Angels takes her some getting used too.
The duo quickly becomes a trio and they are soon a crime-fighting force to be reckoned with.
Stewart is a wonderful surprise as Sabina, the wise-ass, tough as nails girl, fearless in any situation but always ready with a sarcastic quip. Clearly the actress is having the time of her life, Stewart has settled into her role as both actress and movie star, proving her genuine talent in Personal Shopper (2016) and Seberg (2019) while having fun in films like this. No longer the sullen, seemingly angry star of the Twilight series, she seems to have embraced who she is.
Elizabeth Banks is very good as Bosley, one of many Bosleys around the globe it seems. The top Bosley, portrayed by a fussy, wildly over the top Patrick Stewart is being forced into retirement and is none too happy about it. Perhaps he senses Banks has an eye on his job as number one Bosley to Charlie.
As she did earlier in the year as Princess Jasmine in Aladdin, Naomi Scott is wide-eyed and thrilled as Elena, properly shocked at everything going on and the opportunity she has as an Angel. Ella Balinska is fine as hardened former MI 6 agent now working for Charlie, sometimes struggling with Sabina’s antics.
The three Angels kick a lot of ass in the film, leap from planes and perform outrageous action sequences that each display a confidence as a director for Banks.
Sequels and prequels seem likely.
Art? No, but it sure was fun.
One of Canada’s best-known film critics, he spent 10 years on TV as co-host of Reel to Real, and another 10 in education (still writing as a critic) as Director of the Toronto Film School, where he created the curriculum for three programs and taught film history. Film has always been his passion. He has written for magazines such as Toronto Life, Fashion and Hollywood North, been quoted in the Los Angeles and New York Times, as well as the major Toronto dailies. Online he has written for such sites as The Wrap, In Contention, Awards Circuit and The Cinemaholic. His first book Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker, was published in 2010. His second Steven Spielberg: American Film Visionary, a massive volume, has just found a publisher and he’s working on American Film Renaissance – 1967-2018 with Nick Maylor. As a critic, he has had the good fortune to interview directors and stars such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Emma Stone, Jane Fonda, and countless others. As he quips, “Everyone but Jack Nicholson!”