Charlie's Angels review: women take the hot seat in punky, criminally enjoyable reboot

Tim Robey
Ella Balinska, Kristen Stewart, and Naomi Scott in Charlie's Angels - Sony Pictures

Dir: Elizabeth Banks. Cast: Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska, Naomi Scott, Patrick Stewart, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Noah Centineo, Nat Faxon, Jonathan Tucker

It can’t be said that a reboot of Charlie’s Angels was high up the culture’s must-have list – a fact borne out by this flick’s meagre US box office. A lack of star power in the refreshed line-up – only Kristen Stewart of the new trio is globally famous yet – must have been a sticking point. Meanwhile, anti-feminist schadenfreude can whistle at the numbers, while the film remains exactly what it is – frisky, disposable, and pretty harmless fun.

Underdog sympathy helps the cause. Elizabeth Banks, directing for the second time after 2015’s Pitch Perfect 2, has given this one a punky, couldn’t-care-less spin which trounces the last two, McG-directed efforts – 2000’s garish surprise hit and 2003’s even worse Full Throttle, with their more ker-ching casting and barely-evolved-since-the-1970s gender politics. Women take the hot seat here – not just directorially, which is important, but even, as a late twist shows, in the casting of their titular paymaster.

That’s important too. Gone are those creepy, Playboy-Mansion-style harem dynamics. Gone is the simpering. When a lecherous security guard goes out of his way to give Naomi Scott’s tech programmer, Elena, a handheld scan, she doesn’t giggle coyly – as many Angels past would have been obliged – but gives him exactly the tired eye-roll he deserves.

Otherwise the film just clips along, feeling quite a bit shorter than its 118 minutes. These three aren’t meant to cohere as a unit right away. Scott’s character is the new recruit, tragically eager to learn, while Stewart’s Sabina and Ella Balinska’s Jane are established hotshots who work better solo, and don’t especially like each other, until they do.

It all spins around an energy-conservation gizmo, financed by Sam Claflin’s man-child billionaire, that Elena knows has some lethal drawbacks. Few of the men are much value – they include a tattooed assassin (Jonathan Tucker), an arms smuggler (Chris Pang), a smug tech boss (Nat Faxon), and a particularly awkward Patrick Stewart, replacing Bill Murray as Charlie’s ready-for-retirement assistant, John Bosley. Only Noah Centineo’s flustered geek, cutely awestruck by Balinska’s acrobatics, brings much to the party.

The film has a sceptical take on K.Stew’s cool image, mussing it, mocking it, making the point that she’s too self-consciously aloof to be a team player. She shrugs off any notion of having a romantic interest: in fact, the sexiest scene is a devastating boogie she gets with Balinska, when they crash Claflin’s mansion rave in spangly cocktail wear.

Banks’s whole film is a glittering, empty commodity, and knows it. The action scenes aren’t going to win any awards, but zip by with their slick intercutting of three-way peril; the soundtrack, heavily featuring new Ariana Grande songs, nestles satisfyingly in the busiest parts of the film, rather than just popping up in interludes. 

And the outfits: well. It’s an easy test for your enjoyment whether you give a hoot about these clothes. The high-fashion couturing, silly and fetching, tops any new-fangled tux James Bond has donned lately. If it’s a crime to enjoy Stewart, in a fluorescent pink jockey ensemble, hopping on a horse to chase some chauvinist dinosaurs down, cuff me this second.

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