The success of Aaron Spelling’s popular 70s creation involving ass-kicking ladies with big hair and bigger brains shouldn’t have surprised anyone as it was something new that people didn’t even know they wanted. Two McG-directed feature films in the early 2000s were also big hits (thanks in part to the poor taste of the movie-going public), but an attempted series reboot in 2011 died almost before the first commercial break. Times have changed, and while more female representation is still needed it’s no longer a “statement” simply putting tough, smart, capable women on the screen and showing them take down bad guys. That doesn’t mean it’s no longer worth doing, though, and to that end the world is now gifted with yet another incarnation of Charlie’s Angels. It’s light entertainment to be sure, but this new reboot is a fun enough ride with the unlikeliest of MVPs — a smiling, joking, action-embracing Kristen Stewart clearly having an absolute blast.
A tech giant in the Elon Musk mold and his team of engineers have created a new power source that he’s readying for market, but one of the scientists has a hesitation. Elena (Naomie Scott) has discovered a flaw in its design that would allow hackers to weaponize the device and kill via untraceable strokes, but with no one at the corporation willing to listen she goes rogue as a whistleblower and catches the eyes and ears of the Townsend Agency — home to Charlie’s Angels — who swoop in to offer protection. Sabina (Stewart) is a wild card, Jane (Ella Balinska) is a hard-nosed ex-MI5 agent, and their handler Bosley (Elizabeth Banks) is all about keeping things under control, but it quickly becomes clear that there’s a mole in the agency. With vicious bad guys on their tail, Bosley and the Angels are soon fighting to keep their client alive and the world safe.
While the device is little more than this film’s variation on the NOC list from so many spy movies (ie a macguffin), Banks’ script — she also directs — uses the narrative football as a metaphor of sorts regarding the corrupting influence of power. The power source isn’t really all that important, and instead it’s what people in power choose to so with it that really matters. As writer/director/producer/star of 2019’s Charlie’s Angels, Banks is using her power to celebrate “girl power” at every opportunity. From opening credits showing real girls achieving all manner of things to Angels canon changes revealing the hundreds of angels around the world (and the dozens of Bosleys), it’s a movie intent on reminding young women that they can do and be any damn thing they want.
To that end the sex appeal, while still present in the form of cleavage and Stewart’s booty shorts, is noticeably toned down from the films in the 2000s. Gone are the endless peekaboo shots and innuendos that McG loved so much, and in their place is more talk and action highlighting the versatility and capabilities of these women. Curiously, the script has them dropping the ball repeatedly with elaborate efforts that fall apart at the end of each mission, and while there’s a throwaway line of dialogue meant to explain it away by having to do with that pesky mole, the receipts don’t really add up. The mistakes made are theirs. They regroup and repeat until they finally get it right — itself a lesson in persistence — but it’s still an odd choice for a film meant to show how great they are at their jobs.
But whatever. It’s Charlie’s Angels! And the goal here is having fun while highlighting the women making it happen. Banks knows this and ensures her cameras capture these women at their best. From fashion to stunts, from exotic locales to large closets, it’s a visually attractive and fairly engaging romp. There’s fun to be had with the fights and set-pieces — one sequence that sees them infiltrate a corporate headquarters in an attempt to steal the power source is energetic and well crafted — and Banks’ script also finds plenty to joke around about. Everyone gets some mildly entertaining dialogue here and there, but it’s Sabina who gets the most. And Stewart, stereotyped in the real world as the serious, fidgety celebrity, takes the character and absolutely runs with it.
From the opening closeup tight on her face as she plays to “sexy Angel” expectations to the film’s final frames, Stewart carries Sabina as a woman who’s confident, playful, and game for anything. Her dry delivery and frequently self-deprecating humor is the film’s highlight as every scene she’s a part of pops with energy. Someone comments that she’s younger than she looks, and she replies deadpan that she’s “lived hard,” and it’s easy to see Stewart embracing that aspect of Sabina and taking the opportunity to just relax and have fun. Her attitude washes over the others, but while both Balinska and Scott are good in their respective roles they can’t help but play second fiddle to Stewart’s newfound comic and casual persona.
As mentioned above, though, the film is incredibly lightweight. Yes, there are some fun gags and action beats, but it’s all so very forgettable (outside of Stewart). It seems unsure how straight to play things resulting in some sequences that lean broad and others that feel more serious. A company guard is killed due to an action by Elena, and it’s pushed away as collateral damage by the heroes. It just feels wrong, especially as it’s played for laughs, and the film’s attempt to make viewer okay with it — we see him earlier insisting on waving his wand over Elena before allowing her into the building — isn’t nearly enough to justify the indifferent laughter at his demise. It’s that kind of tonal imbalance that runs throughout the movie, and while its default mode is humor it’s fairly inconsistent about it.
If previous versions of Charlie’s Angels were aimed at women and horny guys, this new one feels pointed directly towards young girls and teens. The intended messaging is clear — you can achieve your dreams, you don’t have to put up with sexist behavior, anyone within reason (and within a certain weight limit) can be an angel — and it’s impossible to find fault with that intention. (Well, that last one could use some work.) It’s the execution where things stumble a bit as the action, laughs, and story are all merely okay. It’s not exactly the message it wants to be sending, that just good enough is still good enough, but at least way there’s room for Charlie and her Angels to improve next time around.