When I was much younger, my much older sister had a small DVD collection. In this collection, there were approximately four movies that were relatively age-appropriate for me at the time: Austin Powers, Austin Powers 2, Coyote Ugly, and Charlie’s Angels (Obviously, I have grown up with impeccable taste thanks to this early introduction to women getting shit done). Anyway, let me just preface this article by saying that I am all-too-familiar with the earlier Charlie’s Angels. I promise I won’t spend this whole article comparing the new Charlie’s Angels to the other 2000s versions of Charlie’s Angels (with Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Lu, Bill Murray; you know the one).
Elizabeth Banks helms this rebooted Charlie’s Angels as both writer and director, and skilfully positions the film as a sequel rather than a re-write. There are several nods to the previous films, little throwbacks here and there for those paying attention. The casting of the villainous assassin achieves the same ‘creepy thin man’ vibe, the various array of sunglasses are very reminiscent of that decade and aesthetic, and of course, the general structure and idea of the Townsend Agency and its Angels remains the same. So, what’s different? The camped-up hijinks of the original are gone, and in its place arrives a film that is playful and funny, but well-executed enough to take itself seriously.
Banks doesn’t cater to the male gaze in the same way as the over-the-top cleavage-baring original does with its many, many gratuitous shots of the Angels’ bodies. Instead, it’s shot in the same vein as any run-of-the-mill action movie (think Jason Bourne, Mission Impossible, insert generic male spy movie here). The camera simply goes where the action is. And there is plenty of action. The Angels kick ass. Like Banks, they are good at what they do. I mean, is it highly realistic? No. But I’d argue no action movie really is, so I’m happy just to watch girls kicking ass without literally having to see their ass, you know? In fact, the film kicks off with an extreme close-up as Kristen Stewart, in a blonde wig and makeup that transforms her into a veritable Barbie, bats her eyelashes and talks about how she thinks women can do anything, how they’re underestimated, how it takes men a full seven seconds longer to classify a woman as a threat. The man across from her is enthralled but doesn’t take her seriously. And then she strangles him a little while the rest of the Angels rock up to take out the heavies in the back of the shot.
I’m going to put aside a little paragraph here to talk about Kristen Stewart, because in this film she is a delight to watch. Plus, I think we collectively owe her a little bit of an apology from that Twilight era where we all just decided it was cool to hate her? (Sorry, K-Stew. You didn’t deserve that). Stewart is perfect in this role. She’s got a wild, manic energy and the kind of smirk that’s described in YA novels as utterly disarming. She carries the film, delivering her one-liner comedy relief moments with perfect timing and unexpected sincerity. Her character’s queer orientation has drawn a little criticism for being under-developed, but I think the subtlety with which Stewart makes her character’s preferences known is a nice inclusion that doesn’t pull focus in a way that is normalising. Plus, she looks SO good in her leather jacket ensembles and buzzed undercut that I don’t know if I want to be with her or just BE her, you know? The rest of the star-studded cast—Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Patrick Stewart, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, and teen heartthrob sensation Noah Centineo thrown in for good measure—also have rocking outfits and snappy dialogue, but it is Stewart who wins your heart with her deadpan quips. Mark my words, the thirsty Buzzfeed articles about the ‘10 times Kristen Stewart Stole Our Hearts in Charlie’s Angels’ are being frantically written as we speak.
I’m not going to waste your time (or mine) by recounting much of the plot, because it’s a typical bad-guy-has-potential-weapon-must-get-it-back type of situation, with a couple of bait-and-switches thrown in for good measure. There are some really satisfying parts, some clever hijinks, and some unexpectedly dark moments that the film lightly brushes off with comedy but ultimately doesn’t shy away from. The film jets along from city to city with a pumping pop soundtrack that is punctuated by extremely loud gunfire and explosions (although, perhaps like Hugh Grant, I am just becoming old and crotchety).
All in all, I would absolutely recommend you go and see this movie. It’s not a feminist masterpiece, but it’s far better than many of the crappy male-led action films I’ve sat through. As usual, stick around for some bonus scenes featuring even more star cameos after the credits (I see you, Laverne Cox, you’re killing it).