Movie review: 'Charlie's Angels' semi-reboot has moments, but doesn't rise to expectations
"Charlie's Angels" - ★ ★
If you're watching a big studio film featuring a female ensemble, there is a 50% chance that there is going to be some monologue about how men underestimating women is both a truism and an advantage. On its face it's a harmless observation and a signal to the audience that this movie is aware of modern gender politics. Sometimes it's even passable. But where it starts to wear thin is when the movie around it doesn't stand up to even the most modest expectations of popcorn entertainment.
The latter is more the case with "Charlie's Angels," starring Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott. It is, of course, a semi-reboot of the 1970s television series that spawned a film series and another attempt at a TV show.
While it has always featured three women in the lead roles, the original TV concept was not exactly a model of enlightened feminism. But then Drew Barrymore and McG came along with a take that knowingly winked at its own history of sexploitation while playing into a very 1990s "you go girl" concept. Add a batch of charismatic movie stars and suddenly "Charlie's Angels" seemed fresh.
What is most surprising about the latest "Charlie's Angels," which was written and directed by Elizabeth Banks, who also plays the part of Bosley, is how little the "go girl" feminism of the 2000 film has evolved in nearly 20 years. Blame society or a lack of imagination on the part of the filmmakers, but there is nothing all that new about the ideas here. The film even feels the need to hit the audience over the head with a "girls can do anything" message right at the start with an entirely sincere (and wholly disconnected) montage showing pre-teens doing things like sports and science.
But then the question of expectations rises again: What are we really looking for in a "Charlie's Angels" movie after all? Not terribly much. Some good action, costumes and chemistry from the leads, perhaps. In other words, just entertain us. And in that respect, this 2019 "Charlie's Angels" only partially succeeds.
The action is fine and engaging but nothing we haven't seen before. The costumes, by Kym Barrett, are fantastic (a love letter to sequins, hot pants and excess) as are all the fierce makeup looks. As for the chemistry? Well, it's a little lacking. Part of that is due to the story. These Angels don't have a pre-existing relationship. Stewart's Sabina and Balinska's Jane are solo operators. And one (Scott) isn't even an Angel at all, but an engineer who gets dragged into the fray because she's discovered that the energy saving device she created can be weaponized. So when things go awry with the device and it's stolen, they have to work together under the oh-so-fabulous and oh-so-jaded guidance of Banks' Bosley.
Stewart is having so much fun playing such a sarcastic and carnal character that it's impossible not to smile along with her, but the others get a bit lost in her shadow. And her delightful comedic turn is not enough to carry the sluggish beginning.
The film does some clever things: It doesn't erase the past Angels and Bosley now is a "rank," not a single person. Sam Claflin, as a wealthy tech entrepreneur, and Patrick Stewart as another Bosley are lively standouts. But by the time the movie finds its footing, it's already the end.
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Starring: Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska, Naomi Scott, Elizabeth Banks
Directed by: Elizabeth Banks
Other: A Columbia Pictures release. Rated PG-13 for action/violence, language and suggestive material. 118 minutes