Charlie's Angels (2019) is rip-roaring fun from start to finish, with energetic action and female empowerment that actually feels empowering.
From the opening shot of the new Charlie's Angels movie - an extended close-up on Kristen Stewart's face as she reacts to and rebuffs the patronizing statements of a wealthy man off-camera - it's abundantly clear that this movie made the conscious decision to be from the point of view of the female gaze. That's perhaps to be expected with Elizabeth Banks pulling triple duty on Charlie's Angels - writing, directing and co-starring in the film - but it's still a delightful surprise. It also goes to show how much-needed the female gaze is to creating a fresh, modern update of the franchise originally created by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts in the mid-70s. Banks makes it clear early on that this Charlie's Angels movie is focused on its female characters and their experiences, and from there it takes viewers on an exciting ride. Charlie's Angels (2019) is rip-roaring fun from start to finish, with energetic action and female empowerment that actually feels empowering.
In that vein, Charlie's Angels tells the story of three women coming together to protect each other, and forming an unshakable bond along the way. The movie follows two members of the Townsend Agency who don't quite get along, Jane (Ella Balinska) and Sabina (Stewart), as they team-up on a job to protect Elena (Naomi Scott). Elena is a programmer who's targeted when she attempts to point out that the cutting-edge technology she's been working on for her boss Alexander Brock (Sam Claflin) can be weaponized. When Jane and Sabina's mission is derailed by the assassin Hodak (Jonathan Tucker), they get help from Bosley (Banks). However, the team starts to suspect there's a traitor in the ranks of the Townsend Agency. With Jane, Sabina and Elena unsure of who to trust, they'll have to rely on each other in order to recover the tech and save the world.
Charlie's Angels features the kind of globe-trotting adventure that's become associated with the spy franchise, taking the new trio of Angels to Rio de Janeiro, Hamburg and Istanbul, among other locations. The movie also features a number of fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping action sequences that showcase the skills of the Angels, particularly Balinska's Jane, who's an absolute force to be reckoned with in her many fights against Tucker's Hodak. Where McG's Charlie's Angels from the early 00s reflected the stylized action of the time, Banks' Charlie's Angels is much more grounded in hand-to-hand fighting techniques and practical effects. The result is a more compelling and realistic style that avoids veering too far into overly CGI-ed action, keeping viewers hooked and immersed in the movie. It all comes together to create an exciting action blockbuster that allows its female spies to shine.
In terms of Banks' script for Charlie's Angels, it does have some issues, with the story meandering at times in between the action set pieces. At one point, the movie offers hints into Jane's past as an MI6 agent, but then quickly wraps that up in order to return to the main storyline. However, the script does have fun with playing into and subverting expectations of the Charlie's Angels series and the spy genre as a whole. Just as the Angels themselves use society's expectations about beautiful women against their targets, Banks' script uses preconceptions about Charlie's Angels storylines to pull off some surprising twists in the new movie. The script also gives the film's stars a chance to shine. Stewart is especially entertaining as the flirty and comedic Sabina, while Balinska works well as the straight man to Stewart's schtick - Balinska also gets most of the major action beats and performs them gracefully. Scott rounds out the trio well, with all three showcasing an endearing camaraderie on screen. As for the supporting players, Patrick Stewart offers an atypical performance (for him) and it's a delight to watch him revel in the role, while Tucker is formidable, if one-dimensional; Claflin and Noah Centineo turn in small, but memorable performances as well.
Charlie's Angels deliberately promises in its first scene that this movie will be all about women - specifically, all about women exceeding beyond what's expected of them - and then Banks' film ultimately delivers on that promise on every level. Charlie's Angels excellently showcases how putting a woman in charge of a female-fronted franchise can bring about subtle (or, sometimes, not so subtle) changes that completely reinvigorate a franchise that may have felt stale or played out. Previous Charlie's Angels incarnations still have fans, and they certainly have their own merits, but Banks' Charlie's Angels is not only the entry in the franchise many viewers have wanted to see for some time, but it presents the female-led action film pandering to the female gaze that many moviegoers have wanted for years - if not decades. Banks' Charlie's Angels is a revelation of an action movie, giving viewers exactly what they needed, even if they didn't know it's what they always wanted.
As such, fans of female-led films or action movies in general would do well with checking out Charlie's Angels. It's a heckuva lot of fun, and the perfectly fast-paced popcorn movie for those wanting an exciting excursion at the theater. Stewart, Balinska, Scott and Banks are dynamite on screen, with the full group working excellently together to infuse the film with humor and heart (though there's more of the former than the latter). Although it's unclear whether this Charlie's Angels will receive a sequel, the new trio of Jane, Sabina and Elena are compelling enough that viewers are sure to leave the theater wanting more of their dynamic. Ultimately, Charlie's Angels refreshes the spy franchise while honoring what came before, offering a much-needed update and paving the way for a whole new generation of Angels. Hopefully, we'll get to see the new Charlie's Angels return in a sequel.
Charlie's Angels is now playing in U.S. theaters. It is 118 minutes long and rated PG-13 for action/violence, language and some suggestive material.
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- Charlie's Angels (2019) release date: Nov 15, 2019