The 2019 Townsend Agency shouldn’t still be phoning it in.
After Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) assists her company in developing a clean power alternative, she suspects it could be intentionally weaponized after a co-worker’s accident. With management irresponsibly rushing the tech to market, Elena meets with Bosley (Djimon Hounsou) over her fears… confirmed when an assassin (Jonathan Tucker) attacks the meeting. Enter specialists Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) to spirit Elena away to safety, but the over-preparedness of their attacker more than hints “Charlie’s Angels” might have been expected…
As the second film reboot based upon television’s “Charlie’s Angels,” the lady spy story has always had the earmarks of female empowerment: women who kick bad-guy butts. The 2000 Charlie’s Angels reboot directed by McG was well-received, but the Full Throttle follow-up felt overstuffed with cameos while retreading Mission: Impossible movie plots. Both films maintained a storybook feel rather than the serious spy stuff — note the lack of guns and killing — peddling grrl-power while simultaneously pandering to it. Forgetting the cancelled-in-eight-episodes 2011 television reboot no one ever heard of, Elizabeth Banks was tasked to write and direct the latest attempt to resurrect the Angels, but can audiences get the hard-hitting in-style lady spy story instead of more of the old just-good-enough?
When mandatorily compared to the two previous McG-directed feature films, the result is closer to the cameo-staked Full Throttle sequel than the Bill Murray as Bosley original. Not only have we seen this story before — several times in Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible series alone — it’s even called out in-character we’ve seen it in this same franchise before. This was a too-safe launch when it should have been more innovative; it’s not the kind of must-see-in-theaters film a reboot needs to feel relevant again. Coupled with a forced plot twist that’s more audience-misleading than the last commercial of an episode of “Murder, She Wrote,” this latest reboot feels too restrained and too derivative to award these angels their golden halos.
There was plenty of potential in the casting. Fans of Kristen Stewart and Naomi Scott will get their money’s worth, especially the former. Stewart is rarely seen in a role like this and milks it for all it’s worth — clever, sexy, confident, dangerous, the works — a caring yet free spirit that feels complete. Scott is cast as an outsider looking for an opportunity to escape a life that pigeonholed her for not being outspoken (read: a woman). The problem with the trio is Ella Balinska as Jane, a supposed former MI6 operative whom viewers are told tends to go lone-wolf instead of being a team player… except that really never seems to happen, making any would-be drama fall very flat; it’s like several relevant scenes were left on the cutting room floor or never written to begin with.
Ultimately, the real question is who the film is for. With antics too violent for empowering ‘tweens and too pedestrian for adult audiences, trying to please both satisfies neither. Cartoony antics that have plagued the recent Warner Bros. Justice League films and more recently MiB: International demonstrate audiences want a film to be serious enough to feel dangerous while still having fun with big set pieces and high adventure; even James Bond has figured that out.
The 2019 Charlie’s Angels is rated PG-13 for action/violence, language, some suggestive material, and more cameos than an Austin Powers sequel.
Two skull recommendation out of four
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