'Charlie's Angels' Review: Empty But Endearingly Fun Female Empowerment

Whenever a reboot of a moderately successful property comes around, eyes will inevitably roll. Did we really need a new remake/reboot/reinvention of insert-movie-here? It's a question that plenty of people will have going into Elizabeth Banks' new Charlie's Angels. Did we really need a new Charlie's Angels? Not really. Does it justify its existence? Not exactly. But Charlie's Angels is a mostly inoffensive piece of empower-pop entertainment that does have a lot of Kristen Stewart being very gay, which has to count for something.

The 2019 Charlie's Angels takes the lega-sequel approach to rebooting the long-running action comedy franchise. Set firmly in the world of both the classic '70s TV series as well as the hammy 2000s films directed by McG, the newest Charlie's Angels now shows an agency gone international, with Charlie's original assistant Bosley (Patrick Stewart, replacing Bill Murray) recruiting dozens of Angels across the world and running an elaborate network of fellow Bosleys, now a code-name for the commanding officers of the organization that includes everyone from reliable character actors Djimon Hounsou to... daytime talk show host Michael Strahan. Banks has been in the business a long time and draws from her celebrity connections to make this Charlie's Angels feel as big and glossy and star-powered as possible, but these instances of cheeky stunt-casts only elicit groans instead of laughs. Thankfully, Banks pulls back from these kind of stunt cameos (saving them instead for a star-studded roll call during the credits) and lets her three main stars take the spotlight. And oh boy, do they.

Stewart is the scene-stealing star of Charlie's Angels, swaggering through the movie like a pure force of chaotic, extremely Sapphic energy. The wild-card Angel of the organization, Stewart may sport a trendy undercut and an infinite collection of tight leather pants, but the actress' signature awkwardness shines through in shows of surprising physical comedy and a hilariously blasé attitude. Always nibbling on food and showing off her toned arms, Stewart feels like she's doing an impression of Brad Pitt in Ocean's Eleven mixed with every magazine photoshoot of, well, herself. It's gloriously, unapologetically gay and nigh revolutionary in a franchise that has always boosted more traditional femininity.

Stewart's Sabina Wilson gets paired with the uptight former MI-6 agent Jane Kano (an appropriately capital "C" cool Ella Balinska) for a mission to protect scientist Elena Houglin (Naomi Scott, doing her best doe-eyed everywoman), whose new technology Calisto has a fatal flaw that could be weaponized to carry out untraceable assassinations. After their first Bosley (Hounsou) is killed in an assassination attempt against Elena, they come under the wing of a new Bosley (Banks), the first Angel to ascend to the ranks.

Banks can't seem to decide whether to lean into the kinky camp of the McG films or take a more serious approach to her girl empowerment message, and as a result, Charlie's Angels falls somewhere in the middling, unfunny in-between. It's a competent action movie — despite a few egregious uses of shaky-cam and fast cuts — and an okay female-empowerment movie, but the jokes rarely land, despite Banks' comedy chops. Stewart and Scott try their best — as the straightwoman, Balinska can't help them much in this regard (though she does get something to do with her flirtations with Noah Centineo's charmingly nerdy scientist) — but neither are born comedians and their best lines will get maybe a few halfhearted chuckles. But Banks proves herself adept at staging several thrilling heist sequences, which keep the momentum of the film going despite a slow start. The film finally comes into its own in the latter half, when Banks gives into the more campy elements of the franchise and lets Balinska and Stewart do a choreographed dance routine while infiltrating a glamorous party held by Sam Claflin's buffoonish CEO.

Charlie's Angels holds the distinction of being directed by the first female director of the franchise. Banks is keenly aware of this and overloads Charlie's Angels with as many feminist buzz words and empowering montages as possible in a film that may as well be screaming, "The future is female!" At one point, for no reason whatsoever, there is a sunny montage of girls doing sports that could have been lifted straight out of a "She Can STEM" PSA.

But there's something endearing about the film's rather transparent ploys to be as "hashtag" relevant as possible. Banks is still a relatively clumsy director who has trouble juggling the outsized action sequences with the comedic bits and character drama, but Charlie's Angels is a marked improvement from her last directorial efforts — and at least not as straight-up offensive as Pitch Perfect 2. The "rah-rah" feminism of Charlie's Angels is simple, to be sure, but effective. Maybe the cynic in you will roll your eyes when Stewart declares that girls can do anything, but the optimist in you would gladly give your life to be part of a crew so cool, so empowered, and so well-dressed.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10