‘Charlie’s Angels’ poorly made, poorly sold

Poorly composited promotional material like this is what doomed Charlie’s Angels. Everything’s there — dresses, guns, pretty ladies — but even a layman can tell that not everything is really there. And what’s the deal with that triangle thing? Images courtesy Sony Pictures Releasing.

3/10 Charlie’s Angels was immediately an interesting idea, taking old sexploitation from the ‘70s and repurposing it as a movie about, by and for women. This is readily apparent in the marketing, which doesn’t seem to be aimed at moviegoers at all – it looks like a commercial for a feature-length commercial, emphasizing fashion, feminine confidence and power, dancing and music from fluffy pop artists who are nowhere near as popular with men. Then writer/director/producer/star Elizabeth Banks put her foot in her mouth over it, and the experiment’s no fun anymore.

In Charlie’s Angels, engineer Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) is working on Calisto, a magical icosahedron that can provide renewable energy, but also sometimes turns itself into a bomb. When her company tries to go to market before the product is safe, she turns to the authorities – in this case, the Townsend Agency, an international collective of women spies. Houghlin is joined by angels Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) and Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) and a Bosley (Banks) to stop Calisto from going public.

Charlie’s Angels is fun, flirty and dumb. There’s not much thought put into it, and it’s not worth putting much thought into. In the theater, it seems like a decently watchable TV movie, but not something you should have spent money on.

If you actually do feel like thinking about its merits as a movie, its deficiencies are many and quite serious. Charlie’s Angels is whatever the opposite of a sensory experience is – even watching it in glorious IMAX, the visuals are dull and the sound is constant and unremarkable, like a buzzing in your ear that you never pay real attention to. The colors are bright but without pattern, much like a commercial, which the movie essentially is.

The action is cut-rate, with standard shaky cam and fast-cutting to disguise the generally incomplete choreography. This is a major issue given the rivalry with one of the villains, Hodak (Jonathan Tucker) is strictly physical. There’s an additional issue in the gunplay and Hodak’s M134 minigun that apparently only shoots blanks.

The angels seem to be opposed to killing in some scenes, but not strongly – I’m not really sure what the deal is here, but it’s significantly less fun to watch a cartoon logic movie about super spies who care about the issue at all.

The movie portrays all men as either villains, slightly clueless hunks or casual misogynists, which is to be expected given how hard the movie leans toward its targeted audience. It’s a bit undermined, though, by Wilson, the charismatic one, constantly hitting on her coworkers and being a bit of a pervert in general – I think it was supposed to come off as empowering by having an apparent lesbian played by an out queer actress doing this, but however the genderswap was meant to affect things, it’s Weinstein-adjacent and extremely tone-deaf.

Probably the best thing to be said for Charlie’s Angels is that it looks like a massive party behind-the-scenes.

The movie has a lot of the problems you see in specialized “for her” products, the kind of thing that skews so heavily toward appealing to women that it ceases to appeal to anyone. It’s filled with the sort of things Hollywood executives like to stuff into action movies because they think it appeals to the ladies – romances, gay best friends, catty workplace rivalries and especially the fashion. There’s a whole scene made out of the angels’ closet – “There’s another closet?!” – and at one point Houghlin is kidnapped changed from one extraordinarily well-fitting dress into another as if by magic. The first one’s teal and the second one’s crimson, it’s not subtle. The climax of this is the Lamborghini Urus Bosley drives around, the “super SUV” for soccer moms who still want to ride the Italian bull.

I don’t put much stock into hubbubs that get generated by comments like Banks’ – it’s just the sort of nonsense that comes part in parcel with the movie industry’s perpetually slow news weeks – but it echoes some disturbing trends in recent Hollywood misogyny. Charlie’s Angels is a Sony property, like the 2016 Ghostbusters remake, which also lost tons of money and whose icy reception and poor performance was also blamed on systemic sexism instead of an incredibly ill-conceived marketing campaign.

There’s several problems to point to in how Charlie’s Angels was marketed and there’s a whole galaxy of things wrong with the way Ghostbusters was handled, but the thing to remember is that explicit masculist boycotts almost universally do not work. There are several case studies to back this up, most notably Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which earned $936.7 million domestically, and Mad Max: Fury Road, which bagged six Oscars and remains an enduring cultural icon.

There are plenty of proven strategies to package and sell a movie successfully, and if you package and sell your movie in a way that doesn’t work, saying that it doesn’t work because of systemic sexism doesn’t actually make you any more money. From the top down, there are better, more normal ways to do everything about Charlie’s Angels. Maybe try those next time.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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