Elizabeth Banks resurrects Charlie’s Angels for a new generation, not so much rebooting the franchise as expanding it, making room for new Angels to have new adventures. Charlie’s Angels is slick and fun and glamorous, and has a similar fizzy appeal as Ocean’s 8. Banks, who writes and directs, brings a lot of energy to a fairly wacky spy caper that succeeds largely thanks to Kristen Stewart’s surprise comedy performance. It’s not surprising Stewart can be funny—she has now hosted two solid episodes of SNL, revealing an ability to anchor comedy—but when you consider the archetypes of a spy caper, who would choose Kristen Stewart as the comedy sidekick? Elizabeth Banks, that’s who. That casting decision proves to be the linchpin holding the whole thing together.
The new Millennial Angels are Sabina (Stewart), Jane (Ella Balinska), and Elena (Naomi Scott). Sabina is the funny one, Jane is the inscrutable badass, and Elena is the nerd. The characterizations really don’t go deeper than that, but each actress brings the right energy to their character, and their group chemistry is passable. Banks steps in as one of several Bosleys positioned to aid the Angels in their various capers. The main caper involves Sabina and Jane protecting Elena, a whistleblower trying to fix a doohickey before it is weaponized to kill everyone. The plot almost doesn’t matter because Charlie’s Angels is really about jet-setting locations, an enviable wardrobe, and Sabina tossing zingers and looking impossibly sexy all of the time. Charlie’s Angels posits that Sabina—and by extension, Stewart—is so universally appealing she can both ensnare men and seduce women and Charlie’s Angels IS NOT WRONG. Kristen Stewart has never been so hot on screen, and a big part of her immense appeal is how much fun she is very obviously having.
In contrast, Jane is more reserved, still carrying the trauma of a bad mission. Balinska looks cool doing all the spy things—and her staggering height difference with Stewart and Scott leads to many unintentionally hilarious shots—but she is the weakest link in the group. She doesn’t have the appeal of Stewart or the charm of Scott, and she isn’t quite able to establish her own tone in the ensemble. She’s in an especially tough spot whenever she squares off against the relentless and silent assassin Hodak, who is played by Jonathan Tucker. He has such a strong screen presence he literally does not need to speak to be menacing. (He is so scary on screen he played one of very few people who could believably kill Raylan Givens on Justified.) Balinska cannot match Tucker’s intensity which leaves the Jane-Hodak showdown incredibly unbalanced. If it wasn’t for Banks’s astute direction, it probably wouldn’t work at all.
But Banks directs the sh-t out of that fight scene. She’s obviously seen a John Wick movie, because there is a similar neon-in-a-party aesthetic to the big finale, which sells the boss fight more than anything Balinska is doing. A much better matchup is Sabina versus Jonny (total smoke show Chris Pang). From the opening scene, Jonny is smitten with Sabina, who can’t get rid of him fast enough. It’s a great gag and Stewart and Pang play off each other perfectly, adding some levity whenever Charlie’s Angels needs a bit of a boost. And to be fair to Balinska, she is much more effective awkwardly flirting with a nerdy scientist (Noah Centineo). Action movies just might not be her speed.
For the most part, though, Charlie’s Angels succeeds in being a delightful diversion. Its facile message of female empowerment and friendship is hardly radical, but it comes in a shiny pop package with just enough sincerity to buy in. Charlie’s Angels is genuinely funny, and it’s nice to look at, and I cannot emphasize enough how much fun Kristen Stewart is to watch. She is SO MUCH FUN. Charlie’s Angels is worth it just to usher in the “Kristen Stewart having a blast” era.