Charlie’s Angels doesn’t just have a feminist legacy, but a very specific type, or shall we say, brand. One that unapologetically places just as much emphasis on its female characters’ beauty and fashion choices as it does their kickass action skills. This can go very right, as was the case of the 70s TV show from whence this franchise sprung, and the 2000 movie that gave it new life. Or it can go terribly wrong, as was the case with the 2003 sequel.
Thankfully, the 2019 reboot/sequel mostly gets it right, even if it can’t resist beginning with some of the most pointed dialogue ever written. Luckily, it’s also satisfying, as few movies manage to lay out such a clear, concise case for feminism without being condescending, right in the middle of a fun action scene. Kristen Stewart begins as the film’s MVP and stays that way, and it seems like she’s having a blast.
But much of the real introduction comes through Elena (Naomi Scott), a scientist who approaches the ladies after the corporation she works for dismisses her concerns about the safety of the power source she’s helped create. Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, her actions make her the target of a highly skilled, deadly assassin, prompting Elena’s action-packed journey around the world with experienced Angels Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska), guided by their Bosley, played by Elizabeth Banks, who co-wrote the screenplay in addition to directing.
Yes, the Angels have had some good times, and grown into an international force, with several Bosleys providing mentorship to teams of highly-trained women. That’s not to say the past is left unreferenced, with more than a few cameos longtime fans will recognize, as well as plenty of nostalgia bait for millennials who were first introduced to the franchise via Lucy Liu, Drew Barrymore, and Cameron Diaz. (Remember when having a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead as leads was considered diversity?)
Not that female action heroes are revolutionary anymore, but a film with such an explicitly female gaze still is. Yes, there are plenty of outfits which are no less stylish for coming equipped with protective gear, but there are also safe houses that practically double as spas. Even if the female characters sashay around action scenes in stilettos, the camera often makes a point of emphasizing how high heels are removed or exchanged for more practical footwear before the action even begins. Naturally, the fabulous outfits remain constant.
Such trappings have a tendency to overwhelm character, and Charlie’s Angels does somewhat fall into this trope, with many of the film’s emotional beats somewhat neglected, especially the steadily growing bond between the three very different women. At least it’s also neglected to the film’s emphasis not just on sisterhood, but some of the obstacles women face in less welcoming environments, with one of the minor plot points involving a clinic that caters to women’s reproductive health in Istanbul.
Most of the jokes land too, a running one being a minor, more openly misogynistic villain named Fleming (Nat Faxon). It’s impossible not to view this as a jab at author Ian Fleming, who helped make female objectification one of the trademarks of the Bond franchise. Given that history, it’s probably why it’s still so damn fun to see the kind of women who are still mainly treated as sidekicks take center stage.