In 1976, ABC’s “Charlie’s Angels” made household names of Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith with their iconic back-to-back finger-gun pose.
In 2000, a new generation cheered Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore in the reboot “Charlie’s Angels” and its sequel “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.”
Now, yet another generation welcomes Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott in “Charlie’s Angels,” which reignites the franchise after its 2011 TV series was canceled. More importantly, it aims to modernize a brand once criticized as male-gaze “Jiggle TV” akin to “Baywatch,” which won’t fly in the #MeToo era.
This time, the eponymous Charlie Townsend has died, but his security agency has gone global with numerous Angels working under numerous bosses called Bosleys. Two of those Bosleys (Patrick Stewart and Elizabeth Banks) recruit Angel duo Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) and Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) to investigate a clean energy tech that’s fallen into the wrong hands. They seek out its developer, Elena (Naomi Scott), who eagerly learns the ways of the Angels.
Each of the three stars plays a different function with a distinct personality type.
Kristen Stewart is the smartass jokester, her hair cut shorter in her best “Dragon Tattoo” impression. If you liked her in “Twilight” (2008), you’ll no doubt dig her here. If, like the rest of us, you never understood her star appeal, then you might agree when her character quips, “I can be really annoying.” It’s the type of self-depreciating humor that might even win over some new fans. Your enjoyment of the movie will largely hinge on her performance, which dominates the screen.
Ella Balinska is the tallest of the Angels and the most athletic, showing her chops in hand-to-hand combat. Her character is also given the most death-defying stunts like sliding down a zip line wire. On the downside, she’s forced into an underdeveloped romance with office assistant Langston (Noah Centineo), who is a fun character, but there isn’t enough screen time for it to pay off. In fact, when he shows up in the finale, it’s an unrealistic excuse to get him in the villain’s lair.
Finally, Naomi Scott is the endearing rookie, allowing audiences to vicariously live through her as she tags along on the Angels’ missions. Scott is having quite the year, having played Jasmine in the remake of “Aladdin” (2019). While that film scrapped Jafar’s damsel chains from the animated original, “Charlie’s Angels” oddly traps her in a golden dog collar held by an assassin (Jonathan Tucker).
Perhaps the goal was to show how inexperience can cost a naive spy, but surely there were less on-the-nose alternatives. It’s a tricky needle to thread for Elizabeth Banks, who starred in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “The Hunger Games” before stretching her skill set as a screenwriter. Curiously, her script still plays into female stereotypes like big closets, while making all of the villains men.
However, she deserves credit for some clever dialogue exchanges. At one point, Stewart says, “There was a gunfight at my wedding.” When her colleagues say, “Wait, you’re married?” she replies, “No, I was the better shot.” There are also funny bits where Scott learns the covert technology, speaking too close to her secret microphone bracelet and recklessly handling explosive breath mints.
Not only does Banks write the script, she also makes her sophomore directorial effort after “Pitch Perfect 2″ (2015). Her camera consistently provides high-angle shots, looking down stairwells or looking down on restaurant tables as they’re used as weapons. Her best-staged scene is the curtain-blowing balcony intro as Stewart outwits a wealthy Tinder date (Chris Pang), who condescendingly calls her “Miss Independent” before realizing he swiped right on the wrong Angel.
After that, the rest of the action sequences are hit or miss. The worst is a lame office battle which includes “Home Alone” booby traps like soap in the eyes and doorknobs tied together by bungie cords. Far better is a horse track setpiece where Balinska aims a sniper rifle atop a tower, while Stewart rides a horse to catch the getaway car. Later, there’s a warehouse battle where Stewart battles a henchman in a steel stone crusher like “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (1984).
It all builds to a disappointing Act Three held in the mansion of a swanky party. It’s here that we get the predictable reveal of the traitor who’s been pulling the strings all along. Just as the baddie says, “I love it when a plot comes together,” you’ll roll your eyes thinking it’s just like every other spy flick. Stick around for the end credits, featuring numerous celebrity cameos in a sequel-teasing sequence that seems like it would be a more interesting movie than the one we just watched.
Ultimately, it’s a better reboot than expected, but that’s not saying much. If you want escapist fun, have at it, but if you want something original, sorry Charlie.