Charlie’s Angels (***1/2) don’t need a hug

Charlie’s Angels – 2019

Written and Directed by Elizabeth Banks
Starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Noah Centineo, Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Tucker, Luis Gerardo Méndez

If there was any justice, this film would replace at least the second installment of the Charlie’s Angels, at least in terms of profit. That film took three screenwriters to suck at least 3 times the fun out of the first film and kill whatever momentum the original had going for it. It spent way too much time trying to be funny and never once made us think that any of the girls could hold their own in a fight. Okay, well maybe Lucy Liu. Fifteen years later and here comes Elizabeth Banks to breathe some life into the flagship of female empowerment. Lo and behold, the film is much better than anyone has a right to expect.

The first advantage this 2019 version has is its writer / director / star Elizabeth Banks. Her sense of comic timing and believable situational dialogue allows the story to develop in a way neither its cinematic or small screen predecessors ever did.

We are introduced to two of the Angels, Stewart’s Sabina and Balinska’s Jane as they perform a bust for Bosley (Patrick Stewart). Only he’s not the only Boz. One year later, we see a group of Bosleys (essentially lieutenants) for the Townshend Agency seeing the original into retirement.

Next, we’re introduced to Scott’s Elena, who is a potential whistleblower for the Brok corporation. The maguffin is a source of clean energy that can – surprise – be used as a weapon. After an early set back, the team begins working with Bank’s Bosley. Elena comes along as the key to the power source, but we all know she’s really going to start working with the Angels.

The plot has a few pleasant twists. They don’t just give it away. There is a nice flow to the development, even if it’s not really difficult to ascertain where the team is headed. The thing that pushes us through is excellent action, surprisingly effective acting and a smooth script.

It’s pretty hard to pull off believable action when men are fighting women. Usually there is no accounting for the difference in weight and strength. This time, with Balinska, who is a statuesque 5’10” it’s not impossible to believe she can hold her own against Tucker’s henchman Hodak.

Stewart’s Sabina is a genuine surprise. She’s a natural ham who is the glue of the team for her ability to massage every scene with an unforced quirkiness.

Scott is a delight. She’s not a super being from the start. Her capabilities fit the needs of the plot without bending it to an awkward degree.

Banks’ gives her Bosley plenty of grist. This adds a dimension to the character, makes her an intriguing figure without having to make her a centerpiece. She’s believable as a working boss of sorts.

It’s a delight to see Patrick Stewart play something other than the wise leader. He clearly relishes his opportunity and Bank’s script is smart enough to take full advantage. The humor is consistent and stays clear of the cheese of the prior films. There are only a few gratuitous “she can do it too” moments, a parade of girls “achieving” to start and a stupid reference to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to end the movie.

It is likely that this film will not reach the heights required for sequels. That is a shame. They finally have the right person in charge.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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