Felix’s First Rule of Movies states that "films are always better on their
opening weekend". Well, if that’s true, then maybe there’s a case for adding
to the Ten
Worst Films of All Time list. Because I went to see it this weekend, and
it was really bad.
The good news, insofar as there is any, is that the gross for the sequel was
lower than the opening weekend of the original – something which rarely
happens with Hollywood blockbusters. This gives me some hope: that a franchise
can’t just exist in thin air, as it were, but actually needs some kind of structure
behind it if it is to succeed.
Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, you see, is a bit like the Scream
films: its primary interest is in spoofing the competition. Unlike the Scream
franchise, however, it seems to have forgotten that there has to be some substance
to the film as well. The tipping-of-the-cap to just about every action movie
ever made is all well and good, but ultimately only serves to remind us how
good many of the referenced films are, especially in contrast to the incoherent
mess we’re currently stuck with.
The tone is set in the pre-credit sequence, which does a great job quoting
everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to three or four different
Bond films, but which ends with a CGI sequence of such physical impossibility
that the eponymous girls are essentially treated as superheroes. If they can
do that, then to all intents and purposes they are untouchable, immortal, safe
from any harm. Which, of course, makes the rest of the movie utterly pointless,
since there’s no dramatic tension any more.
I’m not sure this wasn’t deliberate. Freed from the mundane necessities of
plot, tension or character development, the director, McG, can indulge whatever
visual fantasies he likes. Cameron Diaz doing a striptease with the aid of her
two fellow Angels? Throw it in there. In fact, let’s have all three Angels completely
naked at one point, especially since we can do a bit of Terminator-quoting at
the same time! Demi Moore in a swimsuit? And then later with Face/Off-style
gold-plated handguns? Yeah, baby!
The worst thing about Matrix Reloaded was that the action sequences,
although technically impressive, carried no emotional punch. Keanu fighting
baddies isn’t interesting, because we know the outcome in advance: he always
wins. (Only when Keanu’s quite literally out of the picture, during the car
chase, do things really get exciting.) In Charlie’s Angels, the goodies
have a few more setbacks along the way, but there also aren’t any really cool
sequences, either. There’s a very long motocross chase which even the insertion
of bullet-time cinematography in the middle can’t save, and by the time we reach
the end of the film, we’re bored stupid. Cheap jokes are only funny when they
serve to defuse tension: without tension, they’re just juvenile.
Although it has long been commonplace to pan the Hollywood blockbuster as brainless
escapism, in fact the most successful films in the genre do have structure,
plot, and even some semblance of a narrative arc. Part of the reason that The
Matrix became such an important film was that it didn’t shy away from big
ideas; they added to the excitement of seeing action in a whole new way. Spiderman
was a mess, but at least it told a story; dreck like Tomb Raider, on
the other hand, is much less successful because it tries to replace plot with
action sequences. And Charlie’s Angels, with nary an exciting or memorable
action sequence in the whole film, tries to replace plot with post-modern appropriation
and pre-modern jokes.
What I’m hoping is that the disappointing box-office performance of Charlie’s
Angels will help drive Hollywood back to action-movie basics. Some of the
greatest action films of all time (Die Hard, Speed) have actually
had very little in the way of high-budget set-piece stunts: there are maybe
one or two in all. What they have instead is a focused directorial vision, a
taut structure, and a rapt audience. By contrast, you can wander out of Charlie’s Angels
and come back half an hour later without missing anything important: that’s
bad in any movie.
Indiana Jones and James Bond can be funny because they’ve earned it. For one
thing, both heroes always suffer during the course of their movies; none of
the Angels ever does. If Indy is a well-marbled steak, then the Angels are nothing
but fat: all flavour and no muscle. I think I speak for millions of moviegoers
when I say we want something meatier.