Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle Turns Twenty.
If you were a young girl growing up during the early aughts, you knew about and loved, the Drew Barrymore-produced Charlie’s Angels reboot. If you were a middle-aged man going to the movies in late 2000, you were going to check out what this new Charlie’s Angels was all about. If you were a preteen boy watching Charlie’s Angels, you were probably doing so to…well, you get the point. Needless to say, the 2000 McG film, Charlie’s Angels, was a phenomenon. Spearheaded by Barrymore herself, the first film in the Charlie’s Angels series captured the Girl Power energy of the ’90s and married it with the burgeoning, new punk rock scene to great success. Grossing $264.1 million worldwide, against their $93 million budget, Charlie’s Angels was a hit both critically and at the box office. So, it was no surprise when it garnered a sequel three years later, 2003’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. In the 20 years since Full Throttle’s release, however, there have only been two more attempts to keep Charlie’s party going. What was it about the Barrymore films that landed while the others have fallen flat? Let’s solve the case.
One of the key determining factors of the success found in 2000’s Charlie’s Angels is that it was conceived by Flower Films, Drew Barrymore’s production company founded by Barrymore and her best friend, Nancy Juvonen (maybe most widely known for being Jimmy Fallon’s wife). The two women pitched the film to Sony Studios by putting together a montage of their favorite action scenes, arguing that their vision would showcase everything they loved in the genre, while also paying tribute to the spirit of the original Charlie’s Angels television show. After selling Sony on their pitch, Sony even allowed them to pick their director. Barrymore picked Joseph McGinty Nichol (known professionally as McG) because she admired his previous work in music videos. With his flair for directing action to music, Charlie’s Angels can sometimes feel more music video than film, but the joining of the two is what really makes the campiness of these two films sing. The beauty of Charlie’s Angels and its sequel is that at their very core, these films don’t take themselves too seriously.
In the first of the film franchise, Charlie’s Angels, Natalie, Alex, and Dylan (Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Barrymore, respectively) take down a young Sam Rockwell’s Eric Knox: the founder of a tech company hellbent on harnessing satellite voice recognition software to find and kill the titular Charles Townsend, who Knox wrongly assumes to be the one who killed his father. The cast is loaded with other great actors (Tim Curry, Matt LeBlanc, Crispin Glover, Kelly Lynch, and Melissa McCarthy) and the Angels are accompanied by this iteration of Bosley in Bill Murray. John Forsyth even reprises his role of Charlie, building the in-world connection that these films are, in fact, connected to the original series. Throughout the film, the Angels go through various reconnaissance missions in order to ascertain and obtain intel, all the while wearing their now iconic series of deep cover costumes, ranging from Oktoberfest yodeling garb to racetrack-ready speed suits. In sum, the film is a total blast.
Sadly, in recent years, there have been multiple stories that have come out against Charlie’s Angels' production, and these stories and criticisms can’t be outright ignored. Firstly, in casting news, both Thandiwe Newton and Nia Long have come forward about their possible casting in the film. Long has said that in her audition (for the role of Alex Munday, eventually won by Liu), she was told that she appeared too old in comparison to Barrymore and Diaz. Newton, on the other hand, was closer to taking the role but ultimately turned it down because she didn’t want to be overtly sexualized, especially in the intended objectification of being a biracial woman. Even though Newton brought her issues up with the filmmakers and chose not to be in the film, objectification is still undoubtedly present in the film. At one point, Natalie and Dylan assist Alex in an upscale massage parlor heist all dressed as geishas, and in another scene, the three women seduce a security guard while wearing bindis and Barrymore’s Dylan is (ack!) in undeniable brownface.
The last of Charlie’s Angels' debacles came down to Bill Murray’s relationships with both Liu and McG. Murray has seen a number of people come forward in recent years stating that he is difficult to work with: childish at best, verbally and physically abusive at worst. Liu has recounted that he emotionally abused her on set, questioning her acting skills and hurling insults at her. (Liu has stated that they have since reconciled and she holds nothing against him. But she still takes issue with how the media handled the incident by painting Liu - the lesser known of the two, and the woman - as being the difficult person in the situation.) Additionally, Murray and McG also did not get along. These conflicts led to Murray not being asked back for Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Murray’s absence, alongside the departure from cultural appropriation, makes for a sequel more happily devoid of controversy.
What Charlie’s Angels pulls off in its meager balls-to-the-wall 98-minute running time, Full Throttle doubles down on (with an equally bangin’ soundtrack). Coming in at only 106 minutes, CA: FT packs even more action, more outfits, and more twists than its predecessor. In this story, Natalie, Alex, and Dylan are accompanied by a new Bosley (Jimmy Bosley) played exuberantly by Bernie Mac, Bosley’s adopted brother. The retcon is delivered by explaining that Murray’s John Bosley (who also happens to be the original Bosley from the show) had been adopted into Mac’s family (surname, Bosley) at an earlier age (rewriting Bosley’s storyline to mean he had always been adopted into a black family). While this can come across as a means to better diversify the cast (especially in light of Long’s and Newton’s departure in the initial casting process), I still find this new information extremely enjoyable and heartening. Mac’s presence as Bosley in the sequel breathes new life into an already buoyant franchise, and CA: FT is better off for it. There are a lot of great additions to the sequel that completely change up the film’s dynamics (Demi Moore, Justin Theroux, John Cleese, Shia LaBeouf), but, outside of the Angels, it’s always been Mac that has me coming back time and time again.
Outside of a “new” Boz, Full Throttle offers a storyline that the witness protection program’s list of witnesses (within a database housed inside two wearable rings that must be together to be accessed) has been stolen and is going to be sold off to the highest crime family bidder. At the climax of the first act, in a surprise twist, we find out that Barrymore’s Dylan is actually one of the witnesses in the program (real name: Helen Zaas) and the leader of the Irish mob (her ex-boyfriend, Seamus, who she put away) is coming for her. Justin Theroux has the time of his life as Seamus, and out of all the villains in these two films, he brings a campy level of fear that is actually believable. In the villain arena, we also see the return of Crispin Glover’s “Thin Man” from the first film, who actually ends up being Team Angel in all his weird, hair-loving glory. And lastly, Demi Moore plays the big bad as a former Angel (Madison Lee) who had gone rogue in the past and is going rogue again as the mastermind behind the sale of the two rings. It has been argued that Full Throttle lacks a coherently sound plot, but at its core, it’s a story about personal integrity, chosen family, and overcoming your past.
The parallel plot within Full Throttle is that Dylan fears that with Natalie and Alex’s relationship success (Natalie with Luke Wilson’s Pete and Alex with Matt LeBlanc’s Jason), they may soon choose to leave the agency, and her, behind to move forward with their lives. There’s a delightful flashforward where Dylan imagines that in Natalie’s departure, she and Alex are joined by the recording artist Eve as the third Angel, and then even further in the future, a much older Dylan sits alongside the Olsen twins as the Angel trio. Dylan’s abandonment issues are kicked into high gear as rumors circle on whether or not Pete is going to pop the question to Natalie, and Madison’s presence as a former Angel only adds to the reality that Angels don’t stick around forever. By the end of the film, Natalie and Alex have reassured Dylan they’re not going anywhere, and Dylan learns to share in their happiness instead of seeing it as an ill omen of her eventual loneliness. Should these Angels probably go to therapy to work through their individual issues? Sure. But does it seem like the Angels end this film in the security of their personal and professional relationships? Heck yeah.
In the years since 2003’s Full Throttle, there have been two additions to the Charlie’s Angels oeuvre: a television series on ABC that aired in 2011 and was canceled after one season, and Elizabeth Banks’ 2019 film. As someone who only tangentially knew of the ABC series, I can’t personally speak to its demise, but it has been written that the show leaned too heavily into the dramatic notes of the series and lost almost all of the camp entirely. It, frankly, took itself too seriously. As someone who truly grew up with the two Barrymore films, I just don’t need my Charlie’s Angels to be serious, so I can’t imagine myself ever turning to this reboot of a series. The same could be said for Banks’ 2019 film.
Starring Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska, and Naomi Scott as the Angels, 2019’s Charlie’s Angels takes place in a world where the Townsend Agency has expanded across the globe with multiple Bosleys (now a rank within the organization) and multiple, multiple Angels. Banks wrote, directed, and starred in this film (as a former Angel who is now a Bosley), and while it isn’t devoid of humor, because the film doesn’t identify as a full-out comedy, the jokes always seem at war with how realistic and serious the film takes itself. There are several pretty cool action set pieces throughout the film, and I can applaud them for thinking outside of the box in trying to bring Charlie into a more modern world, but there’s something that’s disconnected between this film and the series as a whole. In some cases, this film feels like a women’s action film (which I’m here for), retrofitted with Charlie’s Angels skin. And in this retrofitting process, they create some fairly upsetting situations. In this film (*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD*), the original John Bosley is back (this time played by a jovial Sir Patrick Stewart - they’ve even photoshopped Stewart into stills from Barrymore’s films as Murray’s character, completely erasing Murray from the franchise)...and John Bosley has turned bad! In a film that seems to appear very “rah rah women!” (sorry, Elizabeth Banks, even though you’ve claimed to have not made a feminist film), it seems disingenuous to take the only consistent male character outside of Charlie and make him the bad guy, coloring their entire franchise in a different light. If, perhaps, we had spent a few more films with Stewart as Bosley and we came to this realization slowly, this betrayal would have felt more earned. But in this case, it seemed like more of a dismissal than a celebration of the series it chose to name itself after.
Charlie’s Angels doesn’t need dismantling or fixing, like a bomb that needs to be stopped. While the original series was deemed “Jiggle Television,” there’s a way to honor its original intentions while also bringing the series into a new arena. Barrymore’s two Charlie’s Angels films managed to stick the landing. The appeal of the franchise is three beautiful women solving crimes in ridiculous outfits, and the early 2000 films deliver on that promise while still feeling new and distinct. Barrymore has gone on record saying that she would come back for a third installment in her franchise, and the three Angels remain close to this day (Liu and Diaz were her first guests on the first episode of Barrymore’s CBS talk show, and it’s like they’ve never stopped fighting crime since 2003). In a world trying to make space for older women in the entertainment/action industry (thank you, Michelle Yeoh!), I think a new Charlie’s Angels with older Angels is a much more interesting story than a world in which the very fabric of Charlie’s Angels is stripped for parts.
So, happy twentieth, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. I hope to see an older, wiser, but still silly and kick-ass version of you real soon. A good morning just isn’t the same without ya.
Bernadette graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Film Studies degree she’s not currently using. She constantly consumes television, film, and all things pop culture and will never be full. She doesn’t tweet much, but give her a follow @BeaGorman and see if that changes.