Charlie's Angels and Charlie's Angels Full Throttle: A Meditation
I have been giving some thought to the two Charlie's Angels movies starring Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Drew Barrymore. Both films were directed by someone called McG. You know, I think we can all agree that admirable films are ones that have the strength of their convictions, as it were. We're talking about Charlie's Angels (2000) and Charlie's Angels Full Throttle (2003). Nothing is so unsatisfying as a movie that never settles on its identity and which, therefore, tries to be everything to everybody, as it were. Of course, like anything else in life, such a scattershot approach almost always ends up pleasing no one.
So then, when we turn our attention back to the two Charlie's Angels movies, the question that arises is this: What are the convictions for which they should have had the courage to uphold, if any? Let me say, first, that I understand that the director, McG, has a background in directing music videos. In my opinion, the projects needed to draw even more heavily upon that background.
One way to approach the problem is to say, yes, the movies plainly rode on the back of a certain absurdity. But the mistake these movies made was not going far enough with the absurdity. These movies---if such films needed to be made---needed to go to the hilt with the absurdity, not dial it back. But, of course, if absurdity is handled properly, it is not so absurd after all. I know that doesn't make much sense right now, but please bear with me. All shall be revealed.
The main thing about these films, as I see it, is that they could never decide between being farces or send ups or tributes or homages to the original Charlie's Angels television series. Certain elements seem to scream FARCE! And yet, incredibly, somehow I do believe that these two films are meant as respectful offerings to the altar of the original. The reason I say that is a scene from Full Throttle in which Jaclyn Smith, from the original television series, makes an appearance to give Drew Barrymore's character, Dillon, a kind of 'stiff upper lip' pep talk.
Mrs. Smith appears to have been playing the role in earnest, not winking at the camera and all that. This begs the question: Are we to take this as a seal of approval being extended from the original franchise to the new operation? Does this mean, somehow, that the makers of the original endorse the new operation using its name? Does this represent a passing of the baton, so to speak?
Here is the main problem with the films, as I see it.
The three angels (Barrymore, Liu, Diaz) are shown to have superhuman martial arts fighting skills. Now, I mean what I say when I say that, in these films, we are looking at a trio of private detectives with---for the purposes of the films---literally superhuman martial arts fighting skills. If you recall the gravity-defying, laws-of-physics-bending moves, you will understand what I mean when I talk about the depiction of the three angel's superhuman fighting skills.
This is not a problem, in and of itself. There is no difficulty with having a movie lead by characters with superhuman or near-superhuman abilities. For Heaven's sake, consider the cinematic age we're living in!
But the problem with the depiction of the three angel's virtually superhuman fighting skills, in these two movies, is that almost no one else has even comparable abilities---almost no one (there is one or two, depending upon how you want to look at it). What this means is that they have not been put in a world which can conceivably give rise to their having such superhuman martial arts fighting skills.
Take the movie, Sin City. The character played by Mickey Rourke, Marv, clearly had superhuman abilities. He was machine-gun shot several times, run over by a car, and hit in the head with a sledgehammer; but not only did he survive, but apparently healed instantly and suffered no ill after effects. But, somehow, it worked for me because he functioned in a world that, again, somehow, made me take his remarkable recuperative powers in stride. I believe I found myself thinking Oh, he's like Wolverine, letting it go at that, continuing to go with it.
That's world building. But in the case of the Charlie's Angel's movies, the distance between the superhuman fighting skills of the Angel's and the ordinariness of ordinary people in the real world was, in my view, so pronounced, it was as if a cartoon had been superimposed over real life.
You should not be tempted to compare this to the fighting in The Matrix. In The Matrix, you do not have the superimposition of cartoon-like action over real life. If you recall the very premise of the Matrix, and its two unfortunate sequels, you understand that the action that Neo, Morpheus, Trinity, and the gang engage in against their enemies---is, in fact, a reassertion of real life over a cartoonish existence which most of the world's population have been deceived into thinking was real. This difference is absolutely fundamental because, in the world of the Matrix, You are not the You that you think you are.
That is to say, the You, you think of as the real you, is, actually, a holographic representation of you. You, too, then, could run faster than a speeding bullet, leap a tall building in a single bound, and be more powerful than a locomotive---if you understand that the speeding bullet, tall building, and locomotive are also nothing more than holographic representation. We're not talking so much about 'mind over matter,' as 'mind over the illusion of matter.'
And so, returning to the superhuman martial arts fighting skills of the Three Angels, the issue is this: The trio can have these superhuman fighting skills; they can be the best at what they do; but they have to exist in a world that credibly gives rise to those capacities; they must function in a world that is more suffused with comparable skills possessed by their adversaries, so that we do not get the cartoon-imposed-upon-real life effect that we have been talking about. Does that make sense?
Let's move on and finish this!
These movies should have been musicals. I'm serious. McG, in my opinion, should have made neither tribute to nor farce of the original Charlie's Angel's television series. He should have opted for a simple reinterpretation of the same, taken something familiar and widely loved and presented it in a new form: Charlie's Angel's: The Musical.
I'm dead serious! I'm thinking of something that blends the tone and look of Westside Story and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There should have been singing and dancing. McG and his creative team should have went to school on Indian cinema, so-called Bollywood movies, to see how they do musical cinema. This would have called for more of a straight-faced, serious approach to all of the performances, no winking at the camera. The tone needed to approach the operatic.
Question: Could you keep the same three (Barrymore, Diaz, and Liu) in the leading roles?
Answer: Yes, I think so. All three are capable dramatic actresses. In my opinion, Lucy Liu hit the proper tone in Kill Bill volume one. She would just need to reprise that tone for what I'm thinking about.
Of course, I must say, that all of the theorizing is premised on the supposed need for a big screen adaptation of the original television series.
Let's leave it there. Thank you so much for reading!
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