Charlie’s Angels Soars Over Previous Films (Movie Review)

Kristen Stewart goes big in writer/director Elizabeth Banks’ Charlie’s Angels, another reboot/sequel/legacy flick. A solid cast, smart action, and funny jokes keep this by-the-numbers tale on the right track. Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie may have nothing to worry about, but these Angels’ own impossible missions are way more engaging than the generic trailers suggested. Although why the soundtrack doesn’t include a banger by the suitably named Charlie XCX, we’ll never know.

When Elena (Naomi Scott) decides to blow the whistle on a dangerous tech, she finds herself in the crosshairs of a silent assassin. She can code better than anyone but can’t do much IRL. Thankfully, two top agents of the Thompson firm code-named ‘Angels’ arrive in the nick of time to protect her with weapons, tech, and an underwater rescue.

These new Angels are Sabina (Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska). They report to a newish Bosely (Banks) after the company’s founder/mentor John Bosely (the great Patrick Stewart, no relation) retires. What follows is the standard “person in hiding becomes a badass to join the ranks,” eventually filling the third angel role. They never do the classic pose from the hit 70s, but the spirit of three strong women who would do anything for each other – and to finish the mission – is absolutely on display.

Fans of McG’s early 2000-era movies will recall they were more Austin Powers-style spoofs than actual, y’know, movies (or “cinema” as Marty would say). I’m happy to report that while the production value never rises to tentpole status, there are several standout set-pieces. A brawl using tables in a coffee shop makes excellent use of a bird’s eye view. Another moment in a cement factory feels like an homage to Bond but with three heroes in jeopardy, instead of one.

The art direction is finely detailed while the costumes are more practical or, at the very least, make sense for the mission. An early scene has all three women dressed to look like the coolest white-jacketed engineers ever.

I’m a huge fan of Kristen Stewart’s indie work. Her two films with Olivier Assayas, especially Clouds of Sils Maria, showcased her layers and talent to be in the moment. Sometimes the dialogue was minimal, but like her Maria co-star Juliette Binoche, Stewart express more with her eyes than most other actors of her generation do with their entire body.

For a big-budget studio flick, it’s delightful how Stewart seems more than game to shed her quiet, mumblecore-like gestures for big ones. She’s not doing pratfalls exactly, but I have a feeling she’d be up for it if Banks wanted her to. As Sabina, she gets to deliver the one-liners and toss herself into action like never before.

As I hinted at the top of this review, no one here is Tom Cruise (yet). A scene where Stewart dresses as a jockey and carjacks a horse to chase a speeding car is not at all authentic-looking. Is that her on the horse jumping and tossing, etc.? Eh, I doubt it, but whenever we do see Stewart, she’s 100% engaged.

Scott (Aladdin) and newcomer Balinski complete the trio. Scott is the dorky one, while Balinski is the tough agent with an inevitable heart. I’m not convinced either of them could lead a big flick on their own, but together with Banks and Stewart, the assembled ensemble engages amongst globetrotting exploits and explosions.

Credit Banks as a director for keeping this train moving. I was never bored during the film’s two hours. Banks’ previous directorial effort, Pitch Perfect 2, left a lot to be desired, but she feels more focused this time around. Onscreen as Bosley and off as writer and director, she’s the support system this franchise needed.

At the end of the day, my best comparison is to the Tomb Raider films. Remember how the Angelina Jolie-starring vehicle from 2001 broke records for video game movies while being pretty terrible? And then the new one from 2018 with Alicia Vikander was solid, yet forgettable? That’s 2019’s Charlie’s Angels compared to the Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Lui movies. Back in the early 2000s, big stars lit with over-saturated colors, and delivering broad humor was enough. This new entry in the series is smarter, less self-conscious, and less male gaze-y. That’s a win in my book, and it makes this feature worthwhile.

Note: Fans of the series should stay for the credits for callbacks to the TV show, the movies, and beyond.

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