When it was announced that Elizabeth Banks would be spearheading a reboot of the beloved Charlie’s Angels brand, a resounding “Why?” was predominantly what was heard in return. It wasn’t because Banks hadn’t proved herself as a capable director (Pitch Perfect 2 and its $287 million in-take says hello), nor that films fronted by women weren’t proven successes. It was more that we were getting tired of the constant cycle of unoriginality Hollywood was churning out in quick succession in the form of sequels, remakes and reboots that weren’t always what audiences were clamouring for.
That being said, Banks’ take on the legendary franchise is less reboot and more continuation, acting as a sort-of threequel to the beloved camp actioners that were McG’s excessive films from the early noughties (the name-same 2000 film and its 2003 sequel Full Throttle fronted by Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu). And that “Why?” that the film’s announcement heard so aggressively should be a hearty “Why not?!” as this 2019 Charlie’s Angels is stupefyingly entertaining and genuinely hilarious, offering itself up as a stylish alternative to the destructive blockbusters that have saturated the market.
If the 1970’s television show is an unknown entity to you, or if you’ve somehow bypassed the aforementioned films it inspired, the core concept behind Charlie’s Angels is very, very simple: a mysterious figure (one Charles Townsend) enlists and subsequently trains legions of multi-capable women for his secret agency, ultimately sending them on specific assignments that usually involve solving crime. His latest bevy of angelic warriors, wise-cracking Sabina (Kristen Stewart, an absolute comedic treat) and no-nonsense Jane (Ella Balinska, a star-in-the-making if ever there was one), are recruited to protect Elena (Naomi Scott, all charm), a young computer scientist-turned-whistleblower who is concerned that the technology she has helped create – an Alexa-type wireless energy source named Calisto – could be easily weaponised.
Whilst the plot itself isn’t exactly the most innovative, especially within the whole spy subsect of the action genre, Banks (serving as writer, producer, director, and co-star) remains fully aware of what this type of narrative, and indeed what this type of film needs in order to maintain its investment. Red herrings and double-crossing abound with glee – points to you if you pick up on its eventual villain – but the film’s penchant for exotic locations, generationally-approved soundtrack (pop’s power player Ariana Grande serves as the musical executive producer), and impossibly chic wardrobe means its target audience should be satisfied with its aesthetic ingredients. That’s not to imply that females are predominantly who are being catered for either as the film’s alarmingly high body count and well-constructed (and violent) set-pieces lend it an appeal across the board.
Much like the original films lived and died off the undeniable chemistry between Barrymore (who serves as an executive producer here), Diaz and Liu, this 2019 incarnation succeeds off its wild-fire trio. Stewart’s unexpected return to the mainstream mentality that birthed her success (lest we forget the cultural phenomenon that was Twilight) proves worth the wait as her inherent dry wit and queer sensibility lends itself to Sabina’s appeal, both sexually and comedically. Balinska, all legs, smile and attitude, arguably earns the most complete emotional arc of the Angels, easily handling herself in the action stakes (is it too late to recast Tomb Raider with her?) as well as opening herself up to showcase there’s a beating heart behind the designer label bulletproof attire. And Scott, already having proven her star quality as Aladdin‘s brightest component earlier this year, balances her do-gooder naivety with a burgeoning strength.
As overdue sequels have failed to connect with their respective audiences as of late, it would be a real shame if Charlie’s Angels similarly fell victim. This is filmmaking at its most shameless and fun, a popcorn product that surprisingly has more than its share of boxes ticked in regards to who it will earn appeal with; the younger generation after something topical and fresh, the older audiences seeking a hit of camp nostalgia, and those who are undecided are likely to be pleasantly taken with the action and comedy quota that’s fired at rapid succession where the results are far more hit than miss.