Here are a couple of things that amazed me when I rewatched 2000's big-screen adaptation of the '70s TV series Charlie's Angels: 1) This movie is almost 20 years old. 2) It's still talked about by most movie sites I see online primarily in the context of being a "guilty pleasure." 3) That it still works as well as it does.
This is a movie that should be pretty terrible. TV-to-film adaptations have a pretty low success rate -- for every Fugitive, there are two or three Car 54, Where Are You?s -- and the source material is the kind of silly, played-straight camp that could only exist in the '70s. The director is Joseph McGinty Nichol, former music video director making his feature film debut and a man who willfully goes by the name "McG." It's a movie I remember going to see on opening day in 2000 because it was the big new release and because I liked a lot of the actors, but I'll admit that the trailers and subsequent marketing blitz had my expectations low. That the movie is as much fun as it is was such a pleasant surprise.
Earlier this summer, I went to see the big-screen adaptation of Baywatch, still the worst movie I saw in theaters this year so far. There are enough things wrong with the movie to fill a book, but one of my main issues is that the filmmakers involved never bothered to have a point of view on the material, instead choosing to play it straight, pretend it's awesome and talk down to it all the same time. I have no idea how the Baywatch movie actually feels about Baywatch and it cripples the film. This is not the case with Charlie's Angels, which is very clearly celebrated by everyone from the cast to director McG to the team of screenwriters that includes heavy hitters like Ed Solomon (of the Bill & Ted movies and Men in Black fame) and John August (Go, The Nines). They recognize the whole enterprise as goofy fun and then lean way, way into that goofy fun. The result is a movie that's like critical teflon. Think it's stupid? Of course it is! But try watching it without smiling. Try watching it without being entertained.
What I do love about the fight scenes in the movie, choreographed by Cheung-Yan Yuen and coordinated/shot by the great Vic Armstrong, is just how much of the actors we get to see on camera. This was always the case with martial arts movies and action stars, but really started to become a trend with regular movie stars post-Matrix and has carried on through Tom Cruise clearly performing stunts in the Mission: Impossible series and even to Charlize Theron in this summer's Atomic Blonde. There is a different kind of buy-in we action fans have when we can see the actors working really hard to perform their own fight scenes, and while there is some obvious stunt doubling taking place in a handful of scenes, there are also great pains taken to have the actors do the fighting themselves and play the choreography out in longer takes. Diaz, Liu, Barrymore, Glover and Lynch obviously trained for the fight scenes and it pays off. I even like how each of the Angels has a different fighting style; I'm partial to Drew Barrymore's, not just because she's my favorite Angel but because her character is a brawler. Her fights are less refined than the others, but she throws fists and punches people like she means it.
I know that it's probably stupid and dangerous for me to speak to ideas of feminism because you may very well be reading this and thinking "yes, dummy, that's what it's always been..." but if I'm taking temperature of mainstream popular culture, I do feel like our notions of what it means to be a "strong" female character on film has changed over the last two decades. What was dismissed as reductive and exploitative in 2000 is now better understood as part of the whole spectrum of womanhood. This is not me mansplaining feminism, which I would never presume to do. This is me revisiting Charlie's Angels and recognizing that in 2017, I suspect it would be welcomed in much the same way that Wonder Woman was earlier this year. No, Wonder Woman didn't flaunt her sexuality the way these characters do (and when they do, it's always for the purpose of exploiting the weakness of men). But that's a choice the character makes, just as it's a choice the Angels make. The choice means everything.
Mad Max: Fury Road -- which I still think is because of the stigma that it's not meant to be taken seriously. These women are too sexy and having too much fun to be badass action heroes! But that's bullshit, of course. The joy of action cinema is in watching the actors move on screen. Charlie's Angels is a movie entirely about joy of movement. If you think it's just about watching idiots bounce around in stripper costumes, well, I've got bad news about who the real idiot is.