Warning: all the spoilers.
Two weeks ago I watched the Charlies Angels movie. No, not the new one with Kristen Stewart, the one that came out in 2000 (now streaming on Netflix). I had seen this movie many years ago, and it was fun to revisit it again.
What I enjoyed about the 2000 Charlies Angels movie is that it’s fun and campy and has badass-strong-sexy women leading the way. It’s a fun popcorn movie that doesn’t require me to forget I am a feminist to enjoy it.
I did some reading up on the film after, and what I found most fascinating was how intentional they were about how violence was portrayed. They very purposefully had the Angels not use weapons, particularly guns, throughout the film. Only the villains used guns, and the Angels relied on their combat fighting skills. It’s a subtle visual commentary, one that I probably wouldn’t have picked up on had it not been brought to my attention. But it sets the tone of the movie in very important ways. The heroes and bad guys are very obviously distinguished in how they approach violence, and it makes it very easy to feel who is good and who is bad. And I found myself respecting the 2000 CA movie more.
Flash forward to this past weekend. I went and saw the new Charlies Angels movie. And it was still entertaining, still fun, still campy, still featuring badass-strong-sexy women. It was still a fun popcorn movie that didn’t require me to forget I am a feminist in order to enjoy it.
But, for me, what I found problematic about this new film was how they handled the violence. In this film, the Angels use all kinds of weapons. In this film, death is treated fairly casually. In this film, death happens on screen instead of off screen.
And I found it…uncomfortable.
In an action film with heroes and bad guys, that are supposed to be very black and white heroes and bad guys, the choices in how violence is portrayed makes a strong statement.
Here’s an example.
At the start of the film we learn that some big tech company has developed this fancy clean energy device. People would be able to put it in their homes and it would run their electricity. We also learn that this device is very easy to hack and could be weaponized. Through her testing, Elena (a good guy and soon to be Angel) already accidentally weaponized the device and sent her colleague to the hospital. She is urging the higher ups to delay release of this device so that she can make it unhackable. But of course the bad guy bosses dismiss her concerns and demand that she tell no one about this.
Flash forward a few scenes and Elena is now being hunted by the bad guy bosses, so the Angels are protecting her and collaborating with her to help them get these prototype devices into their own hands. Elena and an Angel get stuck in the building, so Elena hacks the device to weaponize it to open a door. While they wait for the weapon to work, a bad guy finds them and ends up being the only one hurt by this weaponized device.
At this point I lean over to my partner and point out that so far the only two people this device has harmed have been by Elena’s usage of the device.
As the movie continues, so does the violence. And the tactics used by the Angels don’t really differ from that of the bad guys.
And I found myself wondering what the commentary was? When the good guys fight just as dirty and flippantly as the bad guys, are they really good guys?
In a film that paid so much attention to how the women were portrayed – and in that regard I do think they did a good job – I find it so baffling that so little intention was paid to how the violence was handled. The Angels fight with very little accountability, they blindly trust an unknown authority, and they have little care for their victims. How is that different from a bad guy?
I’m a difficult person to go to movies with. I watch with a very critical eye, and I am very sensitive to both violence and how women are portrayed. Actions films are generally not my genre. But I had hoped this film would pass my rigorous expectations. I want to see more action films about women. And I wanted this film to be a step in the right direction. I’m just not sure it was.