Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott are the new Angels.

Charlie’s Angels (2019)

Dept. of Fourth Wave Feminist Reboots


There is this one moment in the latest rendition of Charlie’s Angels that speaks to just how tonally dissonant this movie is. The Angels are on their first mission together as a trio and as they’re making their escape from a secure facility, a security guard – Ralph – being at the wrong place at the wrong time, ends up dying as a consequence of the actions of one of the Angels. In the moments that follow, his death is played for a cheap laugh with the other two Angels and Bosley lying and reassuring their new recruit that he was, in fact, fine. He may have been a creepy white dude who occasionally reminds women “to smile” but did he really deserve to die? Poor Ralph had no idea that he was in a much darker, crueller movie.

So is it a reboot? Is it a sequel? Is it a misguided attempt at rejuvenating a previously exploitative property in our current age of empowerment? 

Aaron Spelling's Angels, Farah Fawcett, Kate Jackson, and Jaclyn Smith.

The original Charlie’s Angels, which ran for 110 episodes across 5 seasons, is most definitely a relic of its time. Our nostalgia addled brains have us believe that it was the beginning of the empowerment of women within popular culture, while the reality of the programme, in which each episode found new and ingenious ways to give the glad eye to its three leads – with plenty of tight-fitting t-shirts, short shorts, and hilariously small skirts – was something else entirely. 

The show, which hit American screens in 1976, shortly after the legal triumphs of Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade, wasn’t really the epitome of second wave feminism. It was, instead, the poster child for the “sex sells” marketing movement. As Farah Fawcett once famously said, “When the show was number three, I figured it was our acting. When it got to be number one, I decided it could only be because none of us wears a bra.”

Elizabeth Banks and Naomi Scott in this year's reboot of Charlie's Angels.

Enter Elizabeth Banks and yet another effort at resurrecting the franchise. This one, the first iteration to be written and directed by a woman, lands in our multiplexes with the promise of being an unrepentant piece of pure girl-power fantasy fulfilment. And it has all the necessary ingredients – badass “lady spies”, glamorous outfits, and a soundtrack so current it feels like it was cribbed from a 16-year-old’s Spotify Discover Weekly playlist. The script also takes the Townsend agency global with dozens of Bosleys and dozens more smart, highly trained Angels all across the world. 

On the face of it, this Charlie’s Angels feels like the right way to breathe new life into the series. Unfortunately, what it ends up being is a string of potentially interesting ideas that are either half-baked or poorly executed.

This movie introduces us to a new trio of Angels, played by Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and  Ella Balinska, each one complete with her own quirky backstory – Stewart’s Sabina is the rich, goofy, party girl running away from her privilege, Balinska’s Jane is the hard-as-nails former MI6 agent with no feelings, and Scott’s Elena is the whip-smart computer whiz who happens to know Krav Maga. We know this about them because of, well, exposition. 

Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott star in Charlie's Angels.

The Angels are now also global operatives trying to save the world from a mysterious device that could have devastating consequences if unleashed upon the world. The MacGuffin here, being an oversized D12 called Calisto with the ability to either revolutionise power generation and distribution as we know it or be used to covertly kill people. (I wouldn’t spend too much time thinking about it. God knows they don’t.) 

Now shoehorn a hammy Patrick Stewart, fleeting fan-servicey references to both the television series and movies, a synchronised dance number with no real purpose, plodding action sequences that are just too little too slow, and what you have is a movie in which no real decisions have been made. In fact, Banks tries to cram so much into the 119 minute runtime that there are entire sequences that feel like they should be in a different movie. A lingering camera seems to have made way for a loitering one. 

And then there are the performances. Kristen Stewart is channeling a sort of hyperactive energy that feels more in sync with the previous McG movies. And Naomi Scott looks like she’s having the whole movie explained to her. If there is one breakout star in this muddling mess, it’s Ella Balinska, whose charm and charisma seems to push through the mediocre material she’s given. The three of them seem like they’re having a blast though. If only the audience was having as good a time.

Ella Balinska and Kristen Stewart star in Charlie's Angels.

Sony Pictures hasn’t had a great year with refreshing their properties. Men In Black: International was a serviceable sequel in which F. Gary Gray somehow managed to squander whatever onscreen chemistry Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson had in Thor: Ragnarok. And Zombieland: Double Tap felt like it was made for that same 2009 filmgoing audience who laughed out loud at The Hangover and Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

While the Angels’ first big-screen outing (and it’s dispensable sequel Full Throttle) with Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu, may very well be what you find when you look up “male gaze” in the dictionary, it never did purport to be anything other than cheesy popcorn trash. In fact, those movies took a decidedly comedic tone, making fun of themselves and the leering premise of the original source material. What’s more, those movies may also be unintentionally subversive (because I refuse to give McG that kind of credit) in successfully bringing together real female empowerment and friendship in a slick and sleek Hollywood package.

This year’s model, however, is trying so hard not to be something that it didn’t quite figure out what it actually wants to be. But at least there isn’t anyone in a bikini trying to dismantle a bomb. In slow motion. Which is, in some sense, progress.

Charlie’s Angels (2019)
119 minutes
Director: Elizabeth Banks
Writer: Elizabeth Banks
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, Noah Centineo, Djimon Honsou, and Jonathan Tucker

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

Linda Hamilton looking badass as Sarah Connor
Previous Story

Terminator: Dark Fate

Kate and Derek in the majestic Zambian plains.
Next Story

Holiday in the Wild

Latest from Movie Reviews

Luca Review

Pixar's latest fish out of water tale, Luca, arrives on Disney+ to