Elizabeth Banks’ new Charlie’s Angels film has been touted as Hollywood’s latest “woke” reboot – a feminist version of the sexy spy series for the modern day. It’s clear this is its modus operandi from the moment the film begins, as we watch Kristen Stewart’s quick-witted operative Sabina admonish a misogynistic adversary: “did you know it takes men an extra seven seconds to perceive a woman as a threat?” It’s an early statement of the film’s intent, and makes one thing very clear: in this version of the long-running franchise, women aren’t going to be underestimated.
The premise is typical of the Charlie’s Angels series, if fairly unremarkable. We’re introduced to two Angels of the Townsend Agency (an intelligence organisation of all-female operatives): the aforementioned Sabina and dedicated, ex-MI6 agent Jane Kano (British newcomer Ella Balinska). Throughout they take orders from their handlers, who all go by the name of Bosley – we see a few of them, but the one they work with most closely is played by Elizabeth Banks. When Elena Houghlin (Aladdin‘s Naomi Scott), a brilliant engineer employed by tech entrepreneur Alexander Brock (Sam Claflin), tries to blow the whistle on a potentially deadly flaw in Calisto – an alternative power source Brock’s company are developing – she ends up embroiled in the Angels’ secret agent lifestyle, teaming up with them to keep Calisto out of dangerous hands (obviously, it can be weaponised).
As an example of breezy, frivolous entertainment, Charlie’s Angels works fine. The chase scenes are big and bolshy with plenty of explosions, there’s a banging soundtrack of female-fronted pop songs (curated by Ariana Grande) and plenty of silly gadgets. Enjoyably, the Angels change their gorgeous outfits (shout out to Stewart’s jockey garb) at the speed of light, but despite the glossy glamour, sometimes the plot falls flat. Elements of different character’s backstories are shoe-horned in – we discover that Sabina is from money but has a criminal record (“mo’ money mo’ problems” she quips), while Balinska finds it hard to trust people. Annoying as these details might be, it’s hard to criticise them too severely as they never actually affect the plot.
If you ignore the narrative slip-ups and focus on the film’s campier moments, Charlie’s Angels makes for a great time. Yes, the script is clunky and yes, it often doesn’t make sense, but there are some genuinely funny bits – especially when Kristin Stewart’s zippy Sabina is on screen. A much-needed comic injection, she expertly delivers the film’s best one-liners with ease. A highlight comes when she’s strangling a man with her legs: “oh baby, you swiped right! I’m your girlfriend now!”
The humour does, however, sometimes contradict the film’s feminist undertones. For example, there’s a moment when Banks’ Bosley says to the Angels’ newest recruit, Elena, “you could be dating [online] more if you played up those cheekbones”. It’s an unnecessary sneer for a film that has been sold on lifting up women. At one point, there’s a phoney ‘inspirational’ montage of women presented with the underlying message that “girls can do anything”, which is incredibly trite. Despite these wrong-turns, Charlie’s Angels mostly comes good on its marketing promise to celebrate the power of female friendship (love interests are snubbed, for the most part) and focuses on women as multi-talented and multi-dimensional.
Whether we needed a reboot of Charlie’s Angels is still up for debate, but to be totally honest, that’s by the by. It’s not going to change the world, or win big at the Oscars, but sometimes, all you need is a bit of fun.
- Director: Elizabeth Banks
- Starring: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska
- Release Date: 29 November 2019