The Townsend agency is waving farewell to John Bosley (Patrick Stewart), and welcoming a new mission. When the dangerous potential of a sustainable energy project is harnessed by the wrong people, two Angels — Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) — must work with the young engineer, Elena (Naomi Scott), who created it to save the world.
Niceties are taken care of from the get-go: “I think women can do anything,” Kristen Stewart’s Sabina Wilson tells a rich man she quickly ends up swindling. There was the fear that a new spin on Charlie’s Angels could have fallen into a trap of performative, derivative feminism — but Elizabeth Banks’ film puts its money where its mouth is, as these women do do so much, as well as just thinking about it.
The premise is the same as ever: Charlie, never seen, only heard over an intercom, runs an agency of spies, assassins, masterminds. These are his angels. We meet two, hired on the same job, but certainly nowhere near soul sisters. There’s Sabina, a sly but also silly rebel with a criminal record and enough comedic energy to power an entire country, and Jane (Balinska), a ruthless and devoted former MI6 agent — show-stopping newcomer Balinska really should be considered on the day when Bond finally is played by a woman.
Charlie’s Angels (2019)
It’s a real joy to see Stewart actually having some fun — she’s the ringleader of this new team, sparky enough to keep spirits up but never gimmicky to the point of derision. Balinska is a revelation — sophisticated and focussed in her mission, channelling severe power when required and bouncing off those around her with sensitivity and charm.
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Skirmishes play out in heavyweight, high-octane action sequences. Every single fight feels like it could be the last.
And the third angel? Well, it’s not that easy. Scott, fresh from this year’s Aladdin, finds her feet as the gifted engineer, both the target and crucial asset in the angels’ latest job. She knows her craft well, but struggles in her position when her male boss fails to take notice of her warnings or, well, sheer existence. The gender dynamics feel different to those of the 2000 film — physical beauty was then used as the first and most obvious weapon by the angels, distracting men who couldn’t stop looking at them. But now, in the age of mansplaining and major Fragile Ego syndrome, the fact that men can’t take these women seriously, because they’re not even acknowledging base-level worth, makes the conflict so much more rewarding.
These skirmishes play out in heavyweight, high-octane action sequences (an earsplitting roving shootout in Hamburg, an almost body-crushing face-off in a warehouse, a floodlit finale set to a Donna Summer banger). Even if the eventual outcome might hit familiar beats, every single fight on the way there feels like it could be the last.
Banks has always been one for well-designed characters and worlds — the wardrobe, geography and production design of this film are ambitiously stylish. The angels have tons of fun with sequined party attire and monochrome bodycon fighting gear, as well as candy-coloured disguises — bowl cuts and all. We get panoramic views of Hamburg and Istanbul, touching down in London but never settling long enough for things to get stale. The conventional makeover scene is zoomed in on, walking through the accessories but avoiding the cliché montage of a transformation. Whenever you think she’s done enough, Banks comes back fighting. And then some.
What could have been a watery rehash is a fresh, exciting update on an attractive story that previously got lost in its own glamour. Do not underestimate these women.