While it has long been a popular property in the past it seems like there is no better time than now for another “Charlie’s Angels” movie especially with fan expectations and demand leaning more heavily toward female driven films. While the 1970s television series did result in two cinematic features in the early 2000s this latest film seeks to update the franchise by serving as a reboot sequel to bring the Angels into modern day. In this film Kristen Stewart and Ella Balinska play a pair of Angels named Sabina and Jane who are charged with protecting a computer scientist named Elena, played by Naomi Scott, who becomes a target after she discovers her latest creation has potential to be weaponized in the wrong hands. In the process Elena also finds the desire to join the Angels herself. The previous “Angels” films are staples of early 2000s cheesiness with the first movie celebrating its 20th anniversary next year. It begs the question does this franchise have anything new to present after such a long hiatus and does this sequel add anything to the franchise? Let’s find out in my review of “Charlie’s Angels”, 2019.
By the time the original “Charlie’s Angels” movie came out in 2000 I had just entering my double digits. As such I grew up seeing it as one of the definitive action films of my youth, but man have times changed. Today the original film and its sequel are horribly dated which makes this third installment a breath of fresh air. Connected to the previous films by minor Easter Eggs and the original Bosley, played in this film by Patrick Stewart, this new “Charlie’s Angels” is a very different animal from its predecessors serving as a truly updated take on the formula that results in a frankly much more enjoyable experience than the first two. Filled with pulse-pounding action and driven by a trio of young actresses who feel completely involved and writer/director/star Elizabeth Banks at the helm this “Charlie’s Angels” tones down the sexualization while still keping it part of the Angels appeal and acknowledging that what makes these women so good at their job IS the fact that men underestimate them because of their gender. Where the previous films presented hypersexualized (for the time) action heroes who occasionally kicked but, this “Angels” film is much more grounded and tasteful and takes better advantage of its opportunity to showcase female empowerment while also allowing the audience to have some good old fashioned harmless action fun.
With that said I’m sure the feminist themes of this film will probably rub some people the wrong way and I can see why. Even when you set aside the fact that there will be ignorant people who will hate this movie just because it preaches that women can be strong thus ironically proving why movie like this need to exist, “Charlie’s Angels” doesn’t exactly hide the fact that its main goal is to embrace the modern female empowerment movement which can feel a bit preachy even to the most liberal minded viewer. Still, while it’s not very subtle it’s also not pandering either. A lot of times the girl power theme is hidden well within the context of a scene or in a few one-liners. It’s only at certain parts of the film where it tries maybe too hard to drive home the strong female message, specifically at the very beginning and in the final moments of the film where the villain gets their comeuppance. I think having a female filmmaker like Elizabeth Banks at the helm helped a lot with the balance of trying to present the capabilities of women while also respecting the fact that sex appeal is an important part of what makes the Angels so good at their jobs. While she doesn’t hit every mark Banks handling of the material proves to be a fun mix of social commentary, action and entertainment without ever going too far with any of these three elements. The problem is her writing and story leave a lot to be desired.
The biggest problem with “Charlie’s Angels” is its predictability. I read this film like a book from start to finish, predicting almost every major twist and turn because as fun and exciting as the movie can be at times it makes the horrible mistake of sticking solidly to genre clichés leading to a surprise villain twist and a surprise reveal in the final seconds that may not sit well with some purists of the series all for the benefit of its female driven themes. In fact, as I was watching the film I began to relize that this sequel might feel different than its predecessors in terms of presentation, but it’s really a lot of the same when it comes to the writing. Many of its story elements are directly lifted from other genre films including the previous two “Charlie’s Angels” features but they’re given a fresh coat of paint and incorporate more modern elements. Still it’s hard to ignore the similarities like a surprise villain, a quiet but capable sidekick reminiscent of the Thin Man from the first movie, and the more genre specific cliche of the Angels starting off as mismatched partners just to name a few. So while there are many issues with this movie, most of them minor, the one big problem with it is that it lacks a certain creativity even within its own franchise and while the performers and director do a lot to help offset this flaw it’s still a very present problem that keeps “Charlie’s Angels” from reaching its full potential.
As I said though even with the notion that this movie isn’t very inventive in terms of plot or story structure everyone involved seems to be fully committed to giving viewers a good time. I already complimented Elizabeth Banks for her work but as an actress she also plays a great leader for the Angels as one of the Bosleys, a designation that has evolved from a name to an actual rank in the agency. Naomi Scott continues to be one of the brightest young actresses of today pulling off the adorable nerd fish-out-of-water character quite well while Ella Balinska is a fun badass take-no-prisoners Angel as Jane. But for me the surprise highlight performance of the film is Kristen Stewart who many have wrongly written off for her dull performance in the “Twilight” franchise and her misgivings during her relationship with equally underappreciated actor Robert Pattenson. Stewart completely sheds her understated performance approach to acting by giving us THE most fun character in this film, a wild, crazy, witty and all-around hilarious Angel named Sabina. There wasn’t a moment when Stewart was on screen that I wasn’t enjoying her performance. She’s all in and for the first time she looks like she’s actually having fun. I wish we got to see more of this from her because she can pull it off quite well. I also have to appreciate the ways this movie tries to add to the franchise by explaining the evolution of the Bosley moniker and the expansion of the Townsend Agency beyond just the three main Angels. There’s evidence that there was at least some creativity worked into this movie, I just wish that bled into the storytelling as well.
When all is said and done, I prefer this “Charlie’s Angels” over the previous two, but there’s still plenty of potential for improvement should this series continue. Elizabeth Banks does a fine job adapting this legendary property for a new generation and the three actresses that play the main Angels are all-in to make this a fun time. It’s funny, exciting, and much less cheesy than its predecessors which makes for an action comedy that feels more mature. Sadly, the film lacks a certain creative touch leaning too heavily on genre clichés which serves as justification for opinions that the movie is maybe too dependent on its girl power themes. Still, despite its horribly predicable premise and twists I genuinely enjoyed this movie. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Is it anything new? No. But what it does offer is a great thrill ride that never lets up and keeps you invested from start to finish even when you already know whats coming. It’s harmless escapism with something to say and that’s all we can really hope, or expect, from a franchise like this at this point anyways. So with that in mind “Charlie’s Angels” gives us everything we should want and even a little bit more. If this is the direction the franchise is headed, I do hope we haven’t seen the last of these Angels.