I haven’t seen Kristen Stewart in a major studio blockbuster since she played a vampire with an immortal, computer-generated daughter. That was in 2012. Nevertheless, within the first five minutes of “Charlie’s Angels,” when she tore off her blonde wig, captured an international smuggler by way of curtain acrobatics and somersaulted off of a rooftop, I knew I was in for a treat.
Written, directed and produced by Elizabeth Banks (“Pitch Perfect,” “The Hunger Games”), “Charlie’s Angels” grants audiences with another franchise reboot that very few asked for.
To be frank, this film had me worrying, if not downright dreading it. From the lackluster trailers (which felt more like advertisements for the new Ariana Grande soundtrack than marketing for a flagship franchise) to the questionable casting choices to the underwhelming box office projections, nothing about this project seemed like it was going to land.
Luckily for me, and for anyone vaguely entertaining the idea of watching it, “Charlie’s Angels” is actually kind of delightful. Stewart fans rejoice.
There’s a lot of good news (and several grains of salt) to be had when considering this movie.
For one thing, it’s incredibly – and surprisingly – watchable. Truly, I feared its under-budgeted, hyper-trendy, synth pop-fueled antics would prove unbearable. For some, they might be. But for me, the movie ended up being, for the most part, a well-written, funny, sharply paced and generally enjoyable action spy flick.
Stewart, along with Naomi Scott (“Aladdin”) and newcomer Ella Balinska play a new generation of “Angels,” or female secret agents working on behalf of a highly sophisticated organization.
Starting with Banks herself, who also stars as a former Angel, it’s clear this movie lives or dies by her hand. She’s taken an extremely high (and kind of scary) level of ownership for this film, both creatively and business-wise. Fortunately I found her direction overall to be sleek, stylish and perfectly suited for the branding of the film. It’s obvious she isn’t an incredibly experienced pioneer behind the camera as some of the story is a little uneven, but her work here is encouraging and indicative of some real comedic chops.
The film, like many others of its kind, is a fast-paced romp around the most glamorous corners of Europe. While it may not utilize the most original format for a slick spy movie, it adds to the collection in skillful ways.
The writing, again, is nothing revolutionary, but it’s mostly amusing and often clever, delivered competently by the three leads. A lot of great action scenes and locations are also built in to the script, which makes the viewing experience feel elevated and big-screen worthy. I particularly enjoyed the battle in the Istanbul rock quarry and the climactic faceoff at the house party (you’ll know it when you see it).
As for the acting – okay, it’s a little hammy at times. Stewart, Scott and Balinska are clearly not frontrunners in this year’s Oscar race, but they never claimed to be. Their scenes together are at times, admittedly, a little cringe-worthy in their execution, but they’re also enjoyably energetic and sassy in their own right. Stewart’s character is particularly likeable as a wild, quirky and loveable Angel. She’s probably the biggest star of the three, and she’s definitely given her fair share of funny quips and killer action sequences.
In the end, “Charlie’s Angels” is fallible to the flaws of any rebooted studio cash grab. It’s largely unoriginal and uninspired in terms of creative flair. But it’s clear the people who worked on it, especially Banks, do everything they can to convince us it’s not just a cash grab, and that it’s actually worth our time.
It’s not the greatest work of cinema this year, or even this month, but it’s a genuinely well-made, well-written, well-constructed blockbuster. And those are hard to come by these days.
Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Traveler score: B