Is a reboot of “Charlie’s Angels,” necessary? When it features out actress Kristen Stewart along with up-and-comers Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska, the answer is mostly yes. This entertaining, globe-hopping action film, opening in area theaters Nov. 15, is never subtle, but it isn’t trying to be.
Writer and director Elizabeth Banks hits viewers with messages about powerful women from the opening scene. Sabina (Stewart) is in Rio telling her date Jonny Smith (Chris Pang) that as a woman, she should be able to do — and be good at — anything. Jonny is surprised when Sabina is soon tying him up and simultaneously straddling and strangling him while hanging upside-down in a cocktail dress. Point for women.
What happens next, however, is a busy action sequence that happens so fast and furiously audiences might be as disoriented as Jonny when the scene is over.
Despite the shaky start, “Charlie’s Angels” improves as the plot kicks in. A project called Calisto in introduced. It is a device meant to disrupt the power industry, but actually, it functions as a high-end assassination machine. Elena (Scott) is a whistleblower at the company that’s threatened when she wants to go public with what she knows and prevent Calisto from falling into the wrong hands. While Angels Sabina and Jane (Balinska) are on the scene as she hands over incriminating evidence, things go sideways. A well-executed car chase, along with some nasty violence and dramatic setbacks occur.
Banks films these sequences well even if logistics are thrown out the window. Can Jane really fire a machine gun while hanging onto an open car door and barreling at high speed through narrow German streets? Does it matter?
When Elena is brought into the Townsend Agency, Bosley (Elizabeth Banks) tries to figure out who wants Calisto, and how the Angels can recover it.
It is a shrewd decision to make Elena a rookie Angel who needs to learn the ropes rather than be an established team player at the start. She functions as a proxy for viewers who will come to appreciate this revamped version of the series. And yes, there are clever winks and nods to the original TV Angels and the previous McG films. There are even a few bars of the theme song on the new soundtrack.
This entry in the franchise benefits from loose, comic banter between the feisty Sabina and intense Jane. They respect each other but also play up a rivalry that comes to a head in a poignant scene of women bonding.
“Charlie’s Angels” also never takes its plot too seriously, using the thin storyline as an excuse to create suspenseful moments, such as a plan for the Angels to go undercover and recover the Calisto from Elena’s company. As a director, Banks builds the tension and uses nifty visuals featuring various doppelgängers to keep the action lively. A fight scene where Sabina takes down an armed security officer in a bathroom stall is stylishly filmed from above.
Even though the pace rarely slackens, “Charlie’s Angels” does take a little too long to reveal the expected double-cross. Meanwhile, action pieces, such as one episode in a quarry, provide both thrills and a twist that figures into the film’s climax.
Moreover, “Charlie’s Angels” is relentless in its effort to have fun. Viewers should not resist giving themselves over to its mindless pleasures. Banks injects the entire film with playfulness, tossing in a gag about Sabina being attracted to/distracted by women in a gym where she’s stealing an employee’s ID badge, or making a reference to “The Birdman of Alcatraz” that snowballs into a funny riff on “Batman.”
The situations are ridiculous, the characters are over the top, and the costumes are mostly fabulous, i.e., Stewart’s leather pants and jockey outfit, as well as Balinska’s dazzling dress. Watching both of them dance to Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” or goof around and gear up in a photo booth is downright irresistible. Even Banks rocks her pair of oversized sunglasses.
Stewart is the standout in the cast here. She obviously enjoys cutting loose and performing daring acts, pulling faces with a kid on a boat, or cracking wise. Balinska also impresses in her part as a tough Angel who learns to show some tenderness. Scott may have the weakest role, but she is an engaging presence. And Banks’ Bosley is nonchalant in a drolly amusing way.
“Charlie’s Angels” may be derivative, but it still delivers.