Once upon a time there was a franchise with a surprising amount of longevity. It’s 2019, and the Townsend Agency is going strong, having expanded across the globe, with Charlie employing Angels around the world. This time, agents Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balisnka) under the guidance of their local Bosley (Elizabeth Banks) are protecting Elena (Naomi Scott), developer of a clean energy technology that someone is trying to steal and weaponize. Who wants it and why isn’t that important, because the less said about the film’s mess of a story the better. Just as long as we have plenty of fights, car chases, shoot-outs, and glamorous outfits along the way.
The new Charlie’s Angels is explicitly not a reboot but a continuation of the 2000 and 2003 films, which themselves were meant as a continuation of the original TV series. It’s an expansion of the Charlieverse, as it were. Which is a thing I just decided existed because, dammit, this movie like the two before it is a ton of fun and there needs to be more of them.
That being said, it’s not always a good film. Fun, exciting, and a great time, but it definitely has some problems. This is the first Angels entry to be written and directed by a woman — our Bosley, Elizabeth Banks — and the first to place a major, supertextual emphasis on the empowering side of the Angels. It’s admirable and welcome — and in fact is very necessary in today’s culture — even if Banks doesn’t always get the balance of message and action quite right. (An opening credits montage looks like a public service announcement, for instance.) But Banks does handle both aspects reasonably well on their own. The dialogue is often very funny, and the action scenes are far more grounded than the wuxia-inspired wire-fu of the 2000s films.
What really makes the film work are the leads. Banks herself is a great Bosley, as is both Patrick Stewart and Djimon Hounsou. (Bosleys, Bosleys everywhere!) But the Angels are the heart of the series, and the new cast is, frankly, awesome. Kristen Stewart was straight-up made for this film, quite frankly. Sabina is a dirty-fighting, punk-rock rebel from a posh background, a subversive extension of Stewart’s own real-life public persona. Ella Balinksa’s Jane is a logic-loving former MI-6 agent who’s as calculatingly sly as she is deadly. They work excellent together, with Naomi Scott providing a great balance between the two as the more innocent but no less capable Elena. The Angels have phenomenal chemistry, and while their less sisters than they are co-workers, watching them act as a team is pretty damn inspiring. It’s frustrating that we don’t get to know them as well as we did any of the Angels that came before them, but all three have distinct personalities that Banks has written very well for.
And a special note: like the Angels in the 2000s film had the Thin Man as a constant adversary, these Angels tangle with the same assassin numerous times. Played with almost wordless menace by Jonathan Tucker, he is THE bad boy of your darkest dreams. Buff, tattooed, devilishly handsome, and coldly efficient, whenever the Angels are up against him, the fights get kicked all the way up.
While the new Charlie’s Angels doesn’t embrace the goofy, campy, wildly kinetic vibe of McG’s 2000s films, it’s still an enjoyable time. Banks has a surprisingly good eye for this style of action/comedy, but there’s still the feeling that she could have gone just a little more overboard to make the film really soar and sing. With such a great cast in front of the camera and a capable writer/director behind it, it’s a wicked fun time and definitely worth the watch. But with the right story, it could have been so much more.
FBOTU Score: 6 out of 10 / B-