Did we really need another iteration of “Charlie’s Angels”? The original ABC series about a trio of gorgeous female detectives might have been thoroughly brainless, but it ran from 1976 to 1981, made Farrah Fawcett a star, and left behind a recognizable title and a high-concept premise that could easily be recycled. So it’s hardly surprising that in the early 2000s, when Hollywood studios were busily unearthing old TV shows for feature treatment, two “Angel” movies starring Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu were produced and drew sizable audiences. An abortive effort to reboot “Angels” as a TV series in 2011 bombed, but the title was still out there for reclamation.
Now Elizabeth Banks has taken up the challenge of remolding a concept that frankly reeks of seventies jiggle for the “Me Too” era. She does so in words—one of the Angels actually says “Girls can do anything”—and by making the three kick-ass types who take no guff from anybody and prove up to handling every dangerous situation. That’s made immediately evident in a prologue in which Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) and her cohorts, overseen by their handler John Bosley (Patrick Stewart, no relation)—one of a number of Bosleys with different Angel teams–bag notorious smuggler Jonny (Chris Pang) and his minions. Banks also populates the picture with a stream of other self-sufficient girls and women.
But Banks also, perhaps inevitably, succumbs to cliché. The major driver of the plot is that there’s a mole in the organization undermining the Angels’ mission. Who could it be? That hokey device is conjoined with another one—the newbie who has to get on-the-job training as the team goes through its paces in unmasking the villain and retrieving the MacGuffin at the center of things.
That MacGuffin is the Calisto, a Rubik’s Cube-style piece of technology developed by a company headed by Alexander Brock (Sam Claflin). The device can somehow generate clean energy, but engineer Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) has discovered that it can also be programmed as a terrible weapon. When she tries to inform Brock of that, she’s put off by her R&D superior Peter Fleming (Nat Faxon), a sleazy sort who’s out to sell it himself.
That leads to Elena trying to get a warning out via the Angels organization, which leads to her—and a Bosley (Djimon Hounsou)—being targeted by a Terminator-like assassin named Hodak (Jonathan Tucker). Elena is saved by Angel Jane Kano (Ella Balinska), now partnered with Sabina under the leadership of Rebekah Bosley (Banks), the replacement Bosley for John, who’s retired.
Elena joins Sabina and Jane to infiltrate the Brock lab and steal the Calisto prototypes, but they are too late: Fleming has gone off with them to Istanbul, where the Angels now repair to retrieve them. In a melee at a rock quarry they again fail, but survive further attacks to confront and defeat the villains at a lavish party Brock is hosting in his massive villa. A postscript shows Elena in training to become a full-fledged Angel—clearly opening the way for a sequel.
While including everything expected in a modern action adventure—protracted (indeed, overly so) combat sequences, absurd escapes and lots of jokes and swagger—Banks takes pains to add a feminist vibe to it all, especially via the characters of Sabina and Jane, whom Kristen Stewart and Balinska strive to give the necessary dash and sass. Scott, on the other hand, tries to bring an Anna Kendrick-like sense of bumptious naiveté to fluttery Elena, while Banks, perhaps preoccupied with her directing chores, makes a bland Bosley.
By contrast Patrick Stewart is his usual pompous, stentorian self, and while a couple of the males in the cast—Luis Gerardo Méndez as the Angels’ multi-tasking resident housemother and Noah Centineo as Langston, Elena’s assistant at Brock—are engagingly laid-back, most of the others are pretty nasty specimens, especially Tucker’s Hodak, who might remind you of Robert Patrick’s Terminator single-mindedly targeted on John Connor.
The craft credits are fine, given that this female-centered action movie wasn’t given the huge budget those with male casts get: under the circumstances, Aaron Haye’s production design, Bill Pope’s cinematography, and especially Kym Barrett’s glitzy costumes make for tasty eye candy. Editors Alan Baumgarten and Mary Jo Markey could have trimmed a bit from the two-hour running-time without loss (the action sequences seem to go on forever), and Brian Tyler’s music is generic.
So in answer to the original question, no, we didn’t need another “Charlie’s Angels.” Banks has tried to give the tired old property a different spin, but in the end the movie is just typical action fare, and the gender of the heroes isn’t enough to save it.