Film

Review: With Kristen Stewart at Its Comedic Center, Charlie’s Angels Gets a Fun, Sharp Upgrade

Sometimes a movie just has to be really fun and sharp to get my attention. It doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel or break the mold; it just has to be a blast. And I’d say this latest version of Charlie’s Angels gets the job done and then some, with an expanded outlook on the Townsend Agency’s outreach and its army of female Angels who rank among the smartest, most highly trained women on the planet.

Taking place in the same universe as both the original television series and the two previous movies, this iteration lets us know early on that there are now hundreds of Angels in the security and investigative agency. Additionally, the name Bosley is now a rank rather than a proper name, although the man for whom the rank is named, John Bosley (Patrick Stewart), is finally retiring and leaving the Bosley tradition in the hands of folks played by the likes of Djimon Hounsou and Elizabeth Banks (who also happens to be the film’s writer and director). Banks’ Bosley is the first to rise up through the Angels ranks, so she has a sense of what many of her charges are going through on their various missions.

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

In an early scene in the film, an undercover Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) has a seductive conversation with her mark in which she says something about how being beautiful is an advantage in her job because no one suspects how dangerous she can be. Although she says it playfully, it’s perhaps the key line of the film. Charlie doesn’t just hire pretty women because he likes having them around; he knows that in a world run mostly by men, their beauty is an asset because it causes these allegedly intelligent men to underestimate them with an alarming regularity. In the climactic sequence of the film, Sabina’s statement is on full display; the audience will likely not even realize it until a particular trap is sprung, and it’s glorious.

The actual plot of Charlie’s Angels is almost arbitrary. The fun that I mentioned earlier doesn’t come from the skillfully deployed chase and fight sequences. It comes from spending time with these unique women. In this version of the Angels, the agents don’t work with regular partners, so when Stewart’s Sabina is paired with Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) to investigate a tech company run by Alexander Brock (Sam Claflin, recently of The Nightingale), which has invented a new and potentially dangerous type of power supply, they haven’t worked together for a number of years, and the last time wasn’t especially pleasant.

They have found out about the potential issues with the power supply from a whistleblower in the company, Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott, from the live-action Aladdin). Although Elena has no formal training, Banks’ Bosley decides she should be a part of the mission and is given a crash course in being an Angel. When the prototype of the power devices go missing, the Angels have to figure out who stole them, who wants to weaponize them, and why a nasty assassin named Hodak (Jonathan Tucker) is trying to kill them every step of the way.

As I said, the plot is almost pointless here, and the villains are all a bit two dimensional. There are a few fairly predictable twists along the way, but Banks the director understands that as long as she keeps the focus on her leads, all will be right. The only interesting male character is named Saint (Luis Gerardo Méndez), who is part Q, part spiritual guru to the Angels, and there’s something so ridiculous about having a person like that in an action movie that it works because it’s new and unexpected. Less impactful is the nerdy side character Langston (Noah Centineo, from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), who Jane might be falling for, thus disrupting her strictly-business persona. His floppy-haired presence barely registers in this film full of wonderfully drawn characters.

The film manages to be amusing without making any of the women act like airheads. In fact, the fact that they are so capable is often one of the reasons the film doesn’t dive head first into being a pure comedy. Charlie’s Angels is an action movie first, with humor a byproduct of the slightly convoluted plot. As much as Scott and Balinska are genuinely terrific here, it’s Kristen Stewart who positively floored me.

After about 20 years of playing such serious roles, it’s fascinating to watch character of Sabina emerge from her with such unexpected layers. She might be a sociopath, full of sex appeal and kinks, but she has no real filters or boundaries when it comes to fighting the bad guys or protecting her fellow angels. Things just come out of her mouth, and you have to take a breath before allowing your brain to move forward. It’s a great comedic performance that doesn’t involve joke telling but absolutely informs the character. When I saw the first trailer for Charlie’s Angels, I didn’t understand what Stewart was even doing in this film, but it all makes sense having seen her dive into this part. She’s stealing the show and making the movie infinitely better by doing the unexpected and making it count for something. As a girl-power guiding light, you could do a lot worse than Charlie’s Angels.

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