I would never describe the Charlie’s Angels concept as “timeless.” The original Angels was a cornerstone of what was known as “Jiggle TV,” a wave of network series that took over the air waves in the 1970s by exploiting the beauty and sex appeal of gorgeous women for ratings. According to Wikipedia, series creators Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts originally conceived the show as something called The Alley Cats, “in which the three females (named Allison, Lee, and Catherine) would reside in alleys and wear whips and chains.” The show’s original opening credits refer to the heroic trio at its center as “three little girls.” Even after its update with the 2000s Charlie’s Angels — which subbed out some of the more dated elements for fancy special effects and Matrix-esque kung-fu fights — it makes for a slightly awkward choice for feminist action movie.

And yet here we are in 2019, with a new Charlie’s Angels that is exactly that. Now the Angels’ skimpy disguises are played with a wink, and all of their targets are sexist, boorish dummies who are easily distracted by a gorgeous woman. The Townsend Agency, once a humble business dedicated to private investigations, has become an non-governmental spy organization — basically the Syndicate from Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation if it was staffed exclusively by bombshells and not dedicated to absolute evil. That’s just one of several aspects of the new Charlie’s Angels that leans on the Mission: Impossible franchise; the Angels whole concept has been reconceived as a globe-hopping spy thriller, with the Angels fitted with high-tech gadgets and chasing a alternative energy source before it can be weaponized.

This time, the lead Angels are Sabina (Kristen Stewart), a daring and brash fighter, and Jane (Ella Balinksa), a former MI-6 agent. They team up with a whistleblower named Elena (Naomi Scott) who helped create this alternative energy device, known as Calisto, and wants to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. As the Townsend Agency’s expanded, they’ve turned the name of the guy who helps the Angels into a rank in the organization, equivalent to a lieutenant, so now there are multiple Bosleys including Djimon Hounsou and Elizabeth Banks, who also wrote and directed this Charlie’s Angels.

Sony

The person who makes the new Charlie’s Angels work when it works is Stewart, very much playing against every image of her audiences have built in their minds over the last decade or so. This is not the shy, demure girl from the Twilight franchise, or one of the aloof, detached young women she’s played (often exceptionally) in most of her onscreen work since then. Instead, Sabina is bold, talkative, and tough as hell. Even if her attitude comes straight out of the action hero playbook, she feels like a fresh spin on this kind of character, with a killer wardrobe, a flirty sense of humor, and an appealing sense of self-confidence. This Charlie’s Angels is not particularly cool, but Stewart and Sabina are cool as hell. The character’s styling and clothes and attitude are going to awaken a million teenagers’ sexualities — both male and female.

There’s only so much Stewart can do, though, in a movie as uneven and over-inflated as this one. The action is totally forgettable and very hard to follow, and there are pointless subplots galore. The worst involves the retirement ceremony for the man who is supposedly the “original” Bosley, played by Patrick Stewart. All of the new Bosleys gather around to honor this man, and it’s played as some grand, nostalgic sendoff to a beloved character who the audience has known for decades. Except Patrick Stewart has never played Bosley before, and we’ve only seen him as this Bosley for a single scene. At least Banks’ script does provide a few surprising twists and turns along the way.

Sony

Action movies have added some new female heroes in recent years — Wonder Woman, Rey from Star Wars, Alice from Resident Evil — but they are still sorely underrepresented in the genre. Still, apart from the protagonists’ gender and a couple distinctive moments — including a sequence near the end of the film where the Angels pause their endless chase to do something surprising, slightly absurd, and entirely wonderful — there’s not much different here than the dozen other bland franchise entries that Hollywood releases every year. The swagger and style of these Angels as they kick butt goes a long way, but not quite far enough. Kristen Stewart’s first line in the movie, which precedes a long monologue about how men are easily mislead by their genitals (which, true), is “I think women can do anything.” I agree. And I also think they can make a better blockbuster than this.

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