Published Nov 16, 2019Even as reboots become more common than not, Charlie's Angels is a confusingly retro choice to drag into the present. The 1970s TV show relied on the novelty, to audiences, of female detectives, and threw the women into bikinis whenever possible. From a modern perspective, even the guilty-pleasure Cameron Diaz / Lucy Liu / Drew Barrymore reboot and sequel of the 2000s is sorely dated by its characters saving the world through sexy choreographed dancing. That retro feeling persisted when the publicity for the current Charlie's Angels reboot kicked off with a video of skinny white pop stars lip-synching to "Don't Call Me Angel," pouting and writhing in lingerie.
What a red herring! Five minutes into director Elizabeth Banks' crack at the franchise proves that the film is everything that its marketing campaign was not — funny, exciting and full of women whose power is anything but performative. With a startlingly good lead performance from Kristen Stewart, and clever touches sprinkled throughout, Charlie's Angels is the best reboot of the year.
Meet the next generation of Angels: Stewart plays Sabina, former heiress-turned-prankster spy; newcomer Ella Balinska keeps order as stoic ex-MI6 Jane; and, fresh off of playing Jasmine in the recent live-action Aladdin, Naomi Scott is Elena, a computer scientist who bands together with the Angels after turning whistleblower on her powerful bosses. Their mission? To stop the sale of Calisto, a sustainable energy system designed by Elena that her corporate bosses are taking to market before she can fix the bug that fatally fries the brain of anyone standing in range — a perfect tool for assassins and terrorists.
Leaving behind its humble California origins, the film zips energetically through photogenic European capitals, as the Angels chase down Calisto, and banter and spar with various greedy men who want to run the world. It's a bona fide action film; there are suspenseful, rollicking set pieces at Turkish horse races, and fight scenes where anything from a keyboard to hand sanitizer is inventively weaponized. Heavy editing cheapens some of this in order to camouflage stunt doubles and sticky transitions, but it's a forgivable device for a director's second feature (Banks helmed 2015's Pitch Perfect 2).
Amongst the subterfuge, fashion reigns supreme. Costume designer Kym Barrett (who defined fin-de-millennium fashion with her Matrix costume designs) delivers constant goodies as the Angels stride into forbidden areas as jockeys in hot-pink satin jackets and scientists in prim bowl-cut wigs. Good outfits are to Charlie's Angels as masks are to Mission: Impossible — imperative and irresistible.
Speaking of irresistible, Kristin Stewart's transformation from twitchy mumblecore maiden into the dynamite Sabina will have susceptible individuals kicking closet doors off their hinges in their haste to pay tribute. There are shades of Kate McKinnon (the highest of praise) in her goofy verbosity, erratic movements and the unhinged way she yells "You swiped right, I'm your GIRLFRIEND!" at the baffled criminal she's got in a headlock. She is the charismatic centre that holds every uneven or exposition-heavy scene together. Who would've thought?
The caper has its weak spots, naturally. Excluding some on-point remixed disco, the scoring is full of unforgivably generic songs about empowerment — a touch that reeks of out-of-touch executives instead of any attempt to set a mood. Also gross and patronizing is an opening stock-footage montage of girls and women playing on a beach, riding bikes, laughing together, etc. — what is this, a tampon commercial? Cut the pandering.
Whether your reference point to Charlie's Angels is the earnest fluff of the '70s or the spoofy romp of the 2000s — or if this is your first encounter with the franchise — chances are that you'll find more to enjoy than to scorn in this film that pays tribute to the past but doesn't dumb itself down in the process.