Charlie's Angels seeks to bring a modern sensibility to the beloved franchise without losing the lightheartedness and fun of the previous two films, and while that's not an easy feat, it more than surpasses the challenge. Elizabeth Banks is at the helm of the newest iteration of the franchise, which kicked off back in 1976 with the now-iconic television series that spawned two films in the 2000s, and she's taken key elements from both to form something that feels made for a 2019 audience but with a loving wink and nod to the franchise's past. It's a delightful combination and makes for a fun thrill-ride of a film that knows what it is and what it wants to be.
Banks has an ear and an eye for comedy, and it shows in the quick-witted banter between the Angels, especially in regards to Kristen Stewart's Sabina. Stewart is utterly delightful in this film, and Stewart has admitted that Banks' comedic expertise was the guiding voice that she used to bring this character to life. The result is a genuinely funny and quirky character that delivers some of the best lines in the movie, establishing this early on when she head butts a guy telling him, "Swipe right, I'm your girlfriend now!" The timing is perfect when she delivers lines like, "What about Ralph killer?" which will make far more sense when you see the movie. Trust me, you'll end up absolutely loving her by the movie's end, but she's also instrumental in bringing out the more vulnerable aspects of Jane and Elena's characters.
In fact, the chemistry between Sabina, Jane (Ella Balinska), and Elena (Naomi Scott) is a huge part of why the film works so well. Each one fulfills a certain role in the team, like previous versions, but they don't feel as binary as previous takes. Each character is allowed to be more than their specialty, and grow to reveal other traits that help round out their characters. Elena is a hacker, sure, but instead of the edgier loner trope we've seen time and time again, Scott brings a warmness and infectious enthusiasm to the character that's perfectly exemplified during her big speech about becoming an Angel and the endearing way that Bosley and the rest of the group react to it is just how an audience will as well.
Jane is the most straightforward character of the group early on, but as the films plays out more and more of her backstory comes into play, it provides the necessary context for her approach to the team and the others in it. Balinska's sarcastic wit is a perfect compliment to Sabina's quirkiness, resulting in several delightful sequences between the two, especially one, in particular, during the third act of the film.
Characters are great, but when you're talking about Charlie's Angels you have to talk about action, and, thankfully, the film has quite a bit of it. The combat itself is hard-hitting and fast-paced, and avoids the more elaborate setups of the previous films for more in-your-face fights and close-up car chases. You always feel immersed in the fight itself, thanks to the tighter camera shots and impactful sound design, and while there's plenty of spy vs. spy elements (including plenty of machine-gun equipped cars), the pacing keeps things from ever going off the rails or becoming dull. The initial fight scene you've seen in the trailers is a perfect example of this in action, but even better is the car chase sequence a bit later on, which hits all the right notes, and the subsequent sequences all follow suit.
Charlie's Angels only really dips when it lets some of that tight pacing lax a bit, like a dancing scene in the third act that was fun but didn't really serve the characters or the plot in any way, and thus felt out of place. Likewise, there's a scene early on that also feels a bit awkward, like it could've used a tweak or two in maximizing its point, though in that case, at least it had a point, which is revealed later in the film.
Though the Bosley role does serve a bigger purpose in the film's overall narrative, the actors who bring that role to life could have been utilized a touch more. While Banks and Patrick Stewart are impressive in their roles, the true Bosley star is Djimon Hounsou, who radiates warmth and compassion during his limited screen time, so much so that you just wish he had more material to work with.
Banks also seeks to modernize the franchise for 2019, and while one particular element of this is a bit on the nose, many of her choices really come through in an organic and completely believable way, and it's something we'd love to see further explored in a sequel.
Banks' mission for Charlie's Angels was to bring this franchise into the modern age in a fresh and meaningful way, and it's safe to say she delivered on that promise and more. Charlie's Angels is charming, genuinely funny, and full of thrilling action, and we would sign up to watch these Angels hit the big screen once more in a heartbeat.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Charlie's Angels is in theaters now.