Updated: Feb 9, 2020
It seems like at least once a week I find myself writing about an attempt to breathe new life into an old property. While it is not quite that often, it is true that Hollywood likes to sell us what we already know, loathe to give up on anything if it made money in the past. This year we have gotten Hellboy, Men in Black: International, Shaft and Terminator: Dark Fate just to name a few. All of them were attempts to mix nostalgia with 2019 social/political awareness to create something entirely familiar with a hint of something new. That trend continues with Charlie’s Angels, a remake or reboot or adaptation or whatever of the 70s television series, its two movie adaptations and its short-lived 2011 television reboot. Many of these updates have been focused on giving women significant roles in what had previously been male-dominated stories. Obviously, Charlie’s Angels is, by its very concept, female-centric, so instead they put an even bigger stress on the strong, independent, feminist themes. I admire the intent behind an action movie about the power of female friendship. Still, it is not enough to make up for far too little fun in this routine spy adventure.
The plot is the usual: the Townsend Agency is an organization of female spies run by the mysterious Charlie. Agents Sabina and Jane are assigned to protect an engineer at a software company who believes the project she is working on is dangerous. Undercover operations, explosions and double-crosses ensue.
Where the early 2000s entries starring Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu were mostly brainless spectacle that wanted to be goofy fun, this version is more serious. It has its share of quips and comic relief, just slightly heavier stakes and more impactful action. It is clear if the Angels fail there will be pretty dire consequences. Though, of course, we never buy for a second they will fail. The fight choreography is not particularly violent. There is a lot of it, and we do see the effect it has on the characters, yet the emphasis is less on brutality and more on personality and style. There was certainly an effort to make this witty and clever; however, none of it feels natural. Everybody tries hard to make the formula work. Sadly, they are unable to get this past intermittently entertaining.
The cast includes Kristen Stewart as Sabina, Ella Balinska as Jane, Naomi Scott as the in-over-her-head engineer, Elizabeth Banks (who also wrote and directed) as their leader, Bosley, and Patrick Stewart as a retired Bosley (Bosley is a title in their company, held by many people). Banks does alright and Patrick Stewart has a couple of amusing moments, but the standout is Kristen Stewart. Despite negative opinions of her due to her involvement in the Twilight series (unseen by me), she has proven herself to be an exceptionally capable actress in interesting material (her performance in 2016’s Personal Shopper is one of my favorites of the decade). Charlie’s Angels is not interesting material, but she is definitely the best thing in it. She is given the most traits to play with and she takes advantage of it. Sabina just wants to have a good time and she comes the closest to making this fun.
Charlie’s Angels (114 minutes without the end credits) is an odd combination of sequel and reboot. Similar to MIB: International, it features references to its predecessors (quite a lot, actually), while trying to tell a new story that feels a lot like the old stories. It works a little better here because of more energy and flow. Plus, the focus on sexism and female friendship mostly comes off organically, instead of the forced social commentary present in a lot of recent major releases. Nonetheless, this is cookie-cutter stuff. There is nothing actively bad about it. It is pleasantly diverting, but unexciting and forgettable. It is difficult for me to imagine this thrilling people enough to get a sequel or even enticing them enough to get them to the theater in the first place. I would not recommend it.
2½ out of 5
Kristen Stewart as Sabina Wilson
Ella Balinska as Jane Kano
Naomi Scott as Elena Houghlin
Elizabeth Banks as Bosley
Patrick Stewart as John Bosley
Sam Claflin as Alexander Brock
Jonathan Tucker as Hodak
Nat Faxon as Peter Fleming
Screenplay and Directed Elizabeth Banks