The first thing you need to know about the new Charlie’s Angels reboot is that its opening credits begin with a montage of what appears to be stock footage of empowered girls across the globe that looks like it was ripped from a Girl Scout’s campaign. The second thing you need to know is that the movie, despite having massive shoes to fill considering its campy, cult classic predecessor, despite its press cycle with a heavy emphasis on sisterhood, is better than that cringe-worthy montage would have you believe. Frequently goofy and self-aware, Charlie’s Angels has flashes of real charm because, thank god, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
It’s easy to feel skeptical about this reboot, because we already have a great remake of the 1970s TV show in the 2000 film. That movie owed everything to its leads, Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu, who played every scene like a winking innuendo, plus the rapid-fire, sensory overload of sets and incredible costumes. How do you top that? You don’t, and the new film doesn’t try. Charlie’s Angels 2019 loads up on high-action car chases, shoot-outs, and straight spy sleuthing that frequently turns the movie into a boring blur of gunfire and kickboxing. What’s left is a film that straddles the line between Bourne Identity and a straight comedy, when it’d be much better off committing fully to the latter.
The plot is forgivably loopy, considering this is a spy movie, a genre that demands everyone suspend disbelief when it comes to how quickly one can take out a room of assassins while wearing a leather minidress. When Brock Industries computer programmer Elena (Naomi Scott) tries to warn her boss of a bug in their new project which will revolutionize sustainable energy, one which that people exposed to its current, he orders her to keep quiet so as to not hurt the company. When she tries to become a whistleblower, she’s almost murdered by a tattooed hitman and ultimately crosses paths with two “Angels”: Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska). Together, they try to figure out who wants Elena dead, which takes them down a rabbit hole to discover someone wants to sell Brock Industries’ new project as a weapon to assassinate people.
Charlie’s Angels throws a lot of energy into its fight scenes, but that’s not what gives the movie a spark. It’s Stewart as the comedic relief Sabina and Balinska as her cold, intimidating colleague Jane. Audiences are used to seeing Stewart play the latter, but here she’s extremely physical and funny, screaming like a wild monkey to distract guards during a complicated hacking mission. After telling Elena about how she became an Angel—she moved in and out of institutions because of behavioral issues—gravely serious, Jane reminds her that she grew up on Park Avenue. “More money, more problems,” Stewart says seriously. Since spending her post-Twilight days in heady, gloomy indie films like Personal Shopper and Certain Women, Stewart looks like she’s having fun in every scene, as do her co-stars, and it’s reason enough to see this reboot if you’re a fan of her work.
Despite the pressure for nearly any comedy starring more than one woman to be a revolutionary, cinematic document, Charlie’s Angels is cool with being a little stupid. When Balinska and Stewart, glamorously suited up and serious in disco attire to infiltrate a Brock Industries party, confront an intimidating-looking locked safe, Stewart takes a deep breathe and proceeds to knock out the combination while yelling “bleep bloop bleep bloop.” It’s a silly move, but it lands. Little moments, like an argument about what actor is most authentically Batman (“Is he?” Banks asks incredulously, after someone suggests Ben Affleck, and they’ve all wasted several minutes discussing this) occurring in the middle of an intense planning meeting following a near-fatal mission, honor the best part of rebooting a franchise like Charlie’s Angels: making fun of spy films and the hyper-complicated, deeply serious bravado that accompanies them.
There’s the sense that Charlie’s Angels is skimming the surface of its comedic potential, especially with Banks directing. There’s a better movie buried in here somewhere, if the actors were allowed to loosen up and have more fun rather than roll headfirst into a heavy chase scene or exotic global location. But just to watch Stewart play a goofball for an hour or so, Charlie’s Angels is worth it.
Charlie’s Angels is in theaters tomorrow, November 15.