Charlie’s Angels, as a cultural commodity, has always been underestimated. From its original television premiere on ABC in 1976, to the first two McG-directed, bombast-driven pop cinema revivals of the early aughts, critics have consistently attributed its success to little more than brash, horndog-serving sex appeal. It makes sense, on the surface: three lightly-supervised beautiful women, fighting hyper-stylized crime in various states of hyper-glamorous dress/undress was something that hadn’t even been considered playable in the late ‘70s, never mind actively shown. What’s massively important to consider, then, is how deeply inspiring these women always have been, to other women, for decades. Yes, by definition, it’s an ultra vampy camp-fest of a product, but getting to see three femmes not only get the job done, but take a seemingly innumerable amount of bad men down in the process? That’s a sure-fire recipe for adrenaline-soaked, big screen euphoria that can render nearly all unsavory, male gaze-related grievances null and void for female-identifying audience members looking to see reflections of their fantasy selves on screen for a few hours.
Stripping away said dude-bro gaze, non-surprisingly, adds a delicious jolt of electricity to the proceedings for the Angels of 2019. Writer/director Elizabeth Banks makes it clear she understands just how inspirational these three heroes are right from the jump with a montage of women, young and old, showcased before the title card plays. It’s initially jarring, but hits you like a sucker punch once you understand what she’s doing: letting women see, concretely, that every single one of us—no matter our size, shape, or color—could be a part of the elite, world-saving team. It’s a refreshingly upbeat, subtly uplifting tone setter that, blissfully, never drops off.
The story itself is nothing new (bad people are trying to do bad things with a good piece of technological wizardry; go get ‘em, girls!), but (of course) the trio at the center are. Feisty rebel Sabina (an overwhelmingly note-perfect Kristen Stewart) and indomitable former MI-6 agent Jane (Ella Balinska, making her mega bad ass major debut) are both part of the Townsend Agency and, as of late, watched over by a new Bosley (Banks, doing triple duty and excelling marvelously) when their old one (Patrick Stewart, having a ball) decides to transition into retirement after a storied career protecting Charlie’s best and brightest (the CGI’d photographs of him with all of the former stars made me scream). They meet Elena (Naomi Scott, of recent live-action Aladdin fame, effortlessly endearing), one of the lead engineers behind a highly-advanced energy source that would do wonders for the world at large…unless it got into the wrong hands, which would made it a casual assassination machine…and it does. From there on out? It’s business as usual, the three coming together under Bosley’s watchful eye to save us all, and wearing some killer costume disguises (designed by the ever-reliable Kym Barrett) while they do it.
Chemistry between the leads is a framework the series has lived and died with since its inception, and these three have it (thank heavens) in spades. Stewart, in particular, positively radiates every moment she’s on screen, showcasing an incredibly deft knack for comedy that’s largely gone unseen in favor of her typically stoic (and equally wonderful) brand of performance. Balinska is a gem of a find, combining her jaw-dropping physical prowess with similarly adept comedic timing to deeply impressive effect. Scott has less to do, technically, but still excels in the journey her more outwardly brainy Elena is dropped into—where we leave her positively begs for a sequel.
Does every single joke land? I’m happy to report that many do, but no. Does it completely re-define “action“ as a cinematic genre? As of publication, nope. Is it, frequently, just plain fun? Absolutely. It wears its heart on its sleeve, without cloying; it feels deeply empowering, without trying too hard; it feels sharply feminist, without giving a sermon. It does so much so right, and leaves you beaming—desperately hoping it does well enough at the box office that we get more time with these wildly powerful women down the road. It might be the third major iteration of Charlie’s Angels, but it feels like they’re just getting started.