Written and directed by actor-turned-director Elizabeth Banks, Charlie's Angels is a reboot of the ass-kicking female secret agent franchise that began life as a TV series in 1976 and subsequently spawned two movies in 2000 and 2003 (the less said about the short-lived 2011 TV series, the better). The new version is by no means perfect, but it's entirely watchable and ultimately delivers just enough in the action and comedy departments to make it worth your while.
Banks updates the set-up slightly so that there are multiple Bosleys, or rather, “Bosley” is a designated code-name for Angel-handlers (so to speak) across the globe. When original Bosley (Patrick Stewart) retires, Bosley (Elizabeth Banks) takes his place, assigning sparky ex-con Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and serious-minded Brit Jane (newcomer Ella Balinska) to the case of whistleblower Elena (Naomi Scott), whose life is in danger because nefarious forces are trying to weaponise the sustainable energy device she created.
It might seem an odd gamble to have one established superstar and two relative unknowns as the three lead Angels (especially compared to the previous star power of Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu), but the actors make it work. Stewart, in particular, is clearly enjoying herself, delivering a full throttle performance that crackles with bisexual energy as she serves up ass-kickings and wise-cracks in equal measure.
Similarly, Scott capitalises on the promise she showed in Disney's live-action Aladdin earlier this year, with an appealing, wide-eyed, energetic performance as the target-turned-potential new recruit. However, it's Balinska that really stands out, with a star-making performance that's likely to prove a serious career boost, despite the film under-performing at the US box office.
Banks keeps the action moving at a decent pace, throwing in a bunch of seemingly random foreign locations, just to keep things interesting, not that you can actually tell which country they're in from scene to scene. She also maintains a high level of energy throughout, so there's never a dull moment, despite a bottom-challenging running time of nearly two hours.
In fairness, Banks occasionally loses control of the tone, particularly when it comes to minor characters dying on screen – you can practically feel the film wrestling with the decision over whether to play that for laughs or not. To that end, both the action sequences and the comedy bits have their hit and miss moments.
For the most part, the action is well handled, and Banks knows how to craft an implausible-yet-entertaining chase sequence – most notably Jane chasing a Terminator-like killer (Jonathan Tucker) through a quarry. However, the fight scenes are a little choppy in places and there's a disappointing lack of invention in the fight choreography.
As for the comedy, it's fair to say that a good number of the one-liners fall painfully flat, and there are a few awkward timing moments that could easily have been tightened up in the editing. That said, at least there's a decent balance, with plenty of gags that do find their targets, the highlight being an inspired riff from Banks about young people not getting cultural references.
In short, this is consistently entertaining and by no means the disaster its poor box-office showing in the US might suggest, though it's now sadly unlikely to get the sequel it deserves.