Disregarded by her superiors, concerned engineer/programmer Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) is worried that her company’s new product has a fatal flaw. Reaching out to the mysterious Townsend detective agency, their contact Edgar Bosley (Djimon Hounsou) promises to help her. Yet before they can leave, they are ambushed by a professional assassin. Fortunately, Bosley has thought ahead and brought two “angels” to watch over them in the form of the equally lethal Sabrina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) – but will it be enough to protect Elena from those who value her silence?
… hasn’t fallen as far from the tree as you might’ve been told and it definitely won’t punish you for taking a fun bite.
In this latest cinematic iteration of Aaron Spelling’s TV franchise about female crime fighters, director Elizabeth Banks has decided to embrace the mythology of both the TV series and the previous Drew Barrymore movies. Opening with a James Bond-like introductory scene, we see angels Kristen Stewart and newcomer Ella Balinska slickly set about their business. By hanging out an international embezzler over his skyline apartment together with his sexist overtones, an enjoyably competent stage is now set. Kristen Stewart’s Sabrina is a goofy and annoying and Ella Balinska’s by-the-book partner Jane, all of which make for a suitably mismatched pairing. Yet when the movie finally brings in Naomi Scott’s nerdy Elena (together with the main plot), Charlies Angels finally finds the accessibility it was reaching for.
You see, for my money, it’s certainly not as smug or self-knowing as the previous movies with Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu. If anything this Charlie’s Angels feels like a step-up both in terms of ambition and aftertaste. Whereas the original TV show was a camp mess, and the 2000’s movies felt like thinly-veiled music videos, Elizabeth Bank’s take is both a reboot, a sequel and a reimagining. So, depending on which iteration of Charlies Angels you grew up with, that could all feel like a step too far. However, similar to when James Bond’s character had to harden after the arrival of the Jason Bourne movies, this latest iteration has shifted in the same direction as Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider. Intentionally more grounded and relatable, and with the pageantry and sexualisation of the Angelina Jolie put to bed for a more tonally appropriate vehicle, if you’re still feeling short-changed then, I’ve got to seriously ask then what kind of skimpy escapism you were hoping for?
You see in movie-reviewing circles, quite often under-performing movies become ripe targets for being written off as complete, damnable disasters and Charlies Angel’s isn’t that. Whereas the promotion behind the Barrymore movies deliberately felt like they were being pitched as epochal events, this Charlie’s Angels doesn’t feel that intentionally ambitious. And in that sense, it feels a lot closer to the recent Mission Impossible movies which clearly know their formula. More often than not, it’s Tom Cruise performing death-defying stunts “for real” but with Charlies Angels, the franchise’s raison d’être has always been pretty clear – that of women being overlooked and assumed to be less capable than men. It’s in its DNA. So if there’s a section of the audience that feels affronted by this kind of intrinsic feminism, then you seriously have to ask what kind of escapist entertainment were you honestly expecting?
Sure, it’s not the kickass-and-ask-questions-later vehicle that audiences might have come to expect, but the banter here is entertaining and it still manages to void the same ensemble mistakes of Oceans 8 and Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot which automatically marked them out for dullness.
In the end, Charlie’s Angels (like its themes and its cast) is a movie that ultimately finds itself where it needs to be. Kristen Stewart relishes her tom-boy antics, Ella Balinska wouldn’t look out of place in Spooks and Aladdin’s Naomi Scott engagingly glues the two halves together. Sure the plotline is nothing new but as its stars dismantle the scenery along with the stereotypes, you’d hard pushed to say you weren’t entertained.
In short, Charlie’s Angels hasn’t fallen as far from the tree as you might’ve been told and it definetly won’t punish you for taking a bite.