You might wonder whether “Charlie’s Angels” still has a place in the world. It’s not just that the original ’70s TV sensation was such a shameless exercise in objectification, however nostalgically it’s remembered. Consider also that the obvious reason to pop open this particular time capsule — to spoof those archaic empowered-female tropes while intensifying the action — was already covered by the Cameron Diaz-Drew Barrymore-Lucy Liu feature franchise of the early 2000s.
But then, has Hollywood ever seen a reason not to go back to the well when it comes to vintage TV? Enter the new, grittier “Charlie’s Angels,” with Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott (“Aladdin”), and relative newcomer Ella Balinska going undercover for director/onscreen handler Elizabeth Banks, again wearing multiple hats after making her hyphenate debut on “Pitch Perfect 2.”
Imagine that — a woman getting tabbed to direct an action movie about women! The move shows in skillful touches such as a verite montage of random school-age girls hard at work and play, and a matter-of-fact plot point about an intel source who oversees a women’s health clinic. “I think women can do anything,” Stewart says in the film’s gender-politically charged opening line, with the Angels then showing this to be true in addition to telling us so. Still, chunks of the story don’t so much highlight Banks’s cleverness as simply affirm that she has the chops for fight scenes and chases — requisite stuff, but also elements that genre fans can readily find elsewhere.
What’s most entertaining here, ultimately, is the performance that Stewart turns in as outspoken, play-it-loose Sabina, a completely unexpected, who-knew mash-up of sexy and offbeat. (She sounds a lot like Banks’s go-to screen persona, come to think of it. No coincidence that Banks also gets screenplay credit here.)
Ever-reclusive Charlie and the Townsend Agency dispatch Sabina and spiky British operative Jane (Balinska) to help Elena (Scott), a tech-company whistleblower fearful that her new brainstorm is being weaponized. It’s hardly a mission that’s all disco-party dresses and racetrack-skybox finery. Well, it’s those things, plus some genuinely hard-core rock-quarry grappling. Oh, and Sabina sees some duty in a pink jockey outfit that’s pretty swell, too.
The redo is comfortable enough with the glossiest aspects of its legacy that it can indulge in, say, a visit to the Angels’ disguise closet, all of that no-nonsense butt-kicking notwithstanding. (Another diverting nod to continuity: backstory about how “Bosley” is a rank assigned to Angel lieutenants around the globe, from Banks’s character to others played by Patrick Stewart and Djimon Hounsou.) But this “Charlie’s Angels” is just as likely to indulge its penchant for mangling, impalement, and exotic forms of collateral damage. Faintly misandric, or overdue payback? Either way, it’s just a different shade of familiar mayhem.
Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.
Directed by Elizabeth Banks. Written by Banks, from a story by Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn. Starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Banks, Patrick Stewart. Boston theaters, suburbs. 118 minutes. PG-13 (action/violence, language, some suggestive material).