Nearly two decades after the first Charlie's Angels movie -- and 40 years on from the big-haired '70s TV show -- the franchise returns in a new form. 2019's Charlie's Angels still follows three "lady spies" unraveling an evil plot with a bulletproof sense of fun, only this time there are fewer gratuitous butt shots and a more overt reinforcement of the power of sisterhood.
This is partly because Charlie's Angels 2019 is squarely aimed at teenage girls, strutting its own Barracuda anthem in the form of a modern, remixed version of Bad Girls. While it does little to escape the convoluted plot twists of the previous films and lacks memorable action set pieces, its unconventional female ensemble channels a bright and poppy empowering energy.
The target audience of this movie should be satisfied.
Charlie's Angels 2019 is not a remake but a continuation of the previous two films and the original '70s series. The Townsend Agency employing the "Angels" expands on a global scale and the movie builds on its blueprint for female spies, Kingsman-style. Now they all report to a senior spy known as "Bosley" and learn their trade in militarylike training facilities, complete with the obligatory James Bond gadget basement.
Elena, played by the endearing Naomi Scott (best known as Jasmine in ), is a young scientist exposing her dodgy big corporation employer. The plot involves a Doctor Who-esque gadget that provides clean energy, but is vulnerable to being weaponized by hackers and criminals.
They have two Bosleys to report to: There's Patrick Stewart's laid-back version, originally played by Bill Murray in the first movie. Elizabeth Banks, who also writes, directs and produces, plays a wine-loving ex-spy who mentors the new Angels.
From the outset, Stewart's Sabina tackles the previous films' baggage when it comes to women being exploited for their sexuality. Wearing a wavy blond wig and tight dress, she discusses female independence and how being underestimated is an advantage in the spy profession -- before flipping a misogynistic Australian thug played by Chris Pang onto his head.
The film's agenda, apparently aimed at young women, is hammered home by a clumsy montage of real female athletes in their element. Every bad guy the angels encounter is male, goofy and demeaning to women in some way, using lines like "Don't forget to smile" or inappropriately touching a female colleague in a workplace.
With the weighty themes pressing on the action, the mission becomes about Elena, Sabina and Jane using their specific skills to save the day and solidify their partnership. Balinksa's pure athletic ability comes in handy for many of the fight scenes, while Jane is the stoic straight-woman to an out-of-the-box Stewart's food-loving punk-heiress Sabina.
Stewart is set up as the joker of the group, the go-to for a quippy remark or a nonchalantly dopey "I know stuff." After a brief period settling into these shoes, she seems more and more comfortable in Sabina's skin -- and leopard print outfits.
A car chase is brightened up by Elena's charming anxiety about dying, but overall the Angels progress from shootouts to hand-to-hand combat sequences without harnessing the same flair as earlier versions. There's nothing that compares with Drew Barrymore's hands-tied battle in 2000's Charlie's Angels, in which she details the order she'll take out her opposing thugs before triumphantly moonwalking out of the scene.
A few brutal deaths jar with the overall glitzy spy-movie tone but Banks draws out the chemistry between the leads, just as she bound together a group of a capella singers in Pitch Perfect 2, her previous movie and directorial debut.
With Ariana Grande producing the soundtrack,Noah Centineo playing a love interest, and other fitting cameos, Banks has equipped Charlie's Angels 2019 with enough hooks for its young adult audience, harmonizing the timely messages with the franchise's ever-uplifting depiction of female partnership.
Originally published Nov. 13.
Correction, Nov. 14, 5:36 a.m. PT: This review originally listed an incorrect actor in the role of Jonny Smith. The character is played by Chris Pang.