In her 2019 reboot, director Elizabeth Banks promised to deliver a version of Charlie’s Angels in a new and shiny wrapping; a feminist film. After having watched the film, it is clear this goal was not quite reached. Although many aspects of the movie function in a much more progressive way than the original TV show, whose entire premise was latent with sexism, it still fails to truly embody a modern feminist perspective.
The film starts out with a promising and engaging scene: one of the Angels, Sabina, is framed in the eyes of the man she’s on a “date” with. Her pink lips and finger nails pop on screen as the close up shot fragments her face and the audience is forced to focus on the suppleness of her beauty. For the first scene, the audience is explicitly situated as the male viewer and is forced to take on the male gaze. Sabina’s dialogue is also the most impressive of the film. She tells her date that her beauty allows her to be an unsuspecting threat, and that those who don’t possess the same beauty are rendered useless. An impressive start, but sadly from here on out the feminist perspective is painfully skewed, and proves to, overall, completely miss the ball.
From this point onward, the film seems to have a hard time discerning between feminism and post-feminism, and although it surely tries to have a progressive message, it doesn’t quite embody one. The characters in the film, specifically Charlie’s Angels, performed under an obvious guise of the “liberated” woman, but all were still based on harmful stereotypes.
Sabina’s character seems the most promising for breaking cliches from the get-go; her androgynous haircut sets her apart from the other women and, in one scene, she is shown clearly checking out another woman. But this LGBTQ+ inclusivity ultimately feels superficial, despite leaning into Kristen Stewart’s own sexuality. It seems as in they threw in this “twist” onto Sabina’s sexuality just for show as it’s never discussed and serves no purpose in the narrative whatsoever. An instance of empty representation is more or less equivalent to no representation at all.
Sabina’s character performs throughout the entirety of the film as the quintessential “dumb blonde,” who can’t seem to get anything quite right but still, miraculously, make it out of tricky situations. Most of her dialogue after the aforementioned scene is painfully scripted to follow the “bimbo” archetype, so much so that her character ends up unlikable. The only way that this stereotype is “revolutionized” was by giving her a slightly less feminine look, although she still wears makeup in every scene and dresses mostly feminine, and by being gay. Sadly neither of these qualities give her depth or complexity, leaving the character and a one-dimensional source of comedic relief.
Jane, the prize fighter of the trio of Angels, falls into the typecast “badass” woman. She likes combat, guns, and has a hard time expressing herself, taking on a masculine persona despite her feminine look to feel like Sabina’s character, but reoriented. As the quintessential femme fatale, June is largely undeveloped and unremarkable outside of her obvious dangerousness.
The film tries to “revolutionize” this Angel by attempting to show that badass, boss women can be complex and have feelings. Jane breaks down while Sabina is bed-injured. Jane forms a crush on a lab worker she meets on her mission. While both of these scenarios do show emotionally vulnerability, they are rendered more or less unimportant, in regard to her characters’ depth, as they are largely centered around other people rather than Jane herself. In the end, Jane never has the agency to be emotionally vulnerable for her own sake, rather it comes about as a consequence of other people.
Last but not least, Elena’s character was problematic even from a not-so analytic perspective. She is a scientist who gets saved by the Angels and is later recruited by them. Elena is the quirky nerd who, despite her impressive professional intellect, has no common sense or any other practical skills. Her role shifts from damsel in distress to incompetent wannabe agent, and at no point in this transition does the audience really feel compelled to root for her character.
Elena is set apart from the Angels for constantly expressing her moral conflict with killing or hurting people. The only thing about Elena’s character that changes is her sudden apathy for assassinating “bad guys,” which ultimately allows her to become an Angel. It doesn’t seem that she has learned to meet any other criteria to become an agent, other than “I’m okay with killing people now.”
It is obvious that the film’s three starring Angels each try to take on the role of an independent, complicated woman, but the results are unsuccessful. The ways in which Banks tries to complicate and give added dimensions to these women are just superficial guises of progressivism draped over painful stereotypes.
The “liberation” these women embody is tied to the fact that they work in a man’s role, rather than the fact that they do the job just as well. In fact, final conflict scene reveals that a group of twenty-plus Angels had been helping Sabina, Elena, and Jane behind the scenes on their mission. This is supposed to communicate a heart-warming message about the power of women as an inclusive community, but is this really heart-warming at all? If three male agents could successfully taken down the antagonist in literally any other action film, why couldn’t the writers have figured out a way for these three women to do the same thing? This final scene, unintentionally, highlighted the previously characterized inadequacy of the Angels and made this whole plot seem relatively pointless.
Charlie’s Angels tried to do so much that nearly all of its feminist conventions ironically end up working against it. In renegotiating the Charlie’s Angels brand, the film failed to provide the cuteness and the glamour that audiences loved in the original films. Taking on this quasi-feminist mission, while at the same time trying to be a Hollywood blockbuster, sets the project up for failure on both fronts. This could have been progressive five years ago, but the current understanding of feminism has moved past the simple desire for female representation in male spaces. In this day and age, feminist perspective expects a revolution and Charlie’s Angels did little to stir the pot.