The new Charlie’s Angels opens with a violent aerial yoga routine, Kristen Stewart in a “high school hot girl” wig, and both the quotes, “I think women can do anything” and “You swiped right—I’m your girlfriend now!”
Good morning, Charlie! Good night, male gaze. Enter Angels who practice shine theory, flirt with other women, and embrace their masculine and feminine traits without pause or apology. “We’re like, destroying the patriarchy in this movie,” Stewart told HelloGiggles on a set visit during filming in Berlin last November.
But don’t call this film a reboot—it is a continuation of the Charlie’s Angels universe. The Townsend Agency international has grown into a worldwide effort, with multiple agencies and Bosleys—now a rank, not a person—supporting teams of women. Stewart’s character, Sabina Wilson, and Jane Kano, a former MI-6 agent turned Angel played by Ella Balinska, have been assigned to protect scientist Elena (Aladdin star Naomi Scott).
Elena becomes a whistleblower and joins the Angels after her concerns about Calisto, a sustainable energy resource that can be weaponized in the wrong hands, are dismissed by her creepy, flirty boss and the company founder, a Mark Zuckerberg-startup man-child-type played by Sam Claflin.
It’s a familiar “save the world” story but with more depth than the industry usually allows women on screen. These are Angels who tell their feelings to a licensed therapist-cum-weapons outfitter (played by Mexican star Luis Gerardo Méndez), and can cry if they want to.
Rather than having three superhuman women who are “like, sexy and perfect” and can “fly through the air,” Stewart said, this film argues by saying, “No, it’s hard to do what we are doing, and we are only able to do it together.”
The characters lean on one another to come into their own, and Stewart credits director Elizabeth Banks with building female characters who actually have lives. “I read [the script] ages ago,” Stewart said. “It found its purpose once Liz came onto the project.”
We see the Angels fighting villains as well as the everyday sexism we experience in our own lives. In one scene, Elena, who is used to being dismissed by her male peers, gives an impassioned speech on why she should be included in a mission—only to have the others say they never planned to leave her out. It’s an international crime-fighting unit, not a clique.
Banks, who also plays the group’s Bosley, said she was inspired by the death of such scenes in the industry—women just talking out a problem with zero men around because “God forbid, women sit around the table and actually figure out how to work in the world all by their lonesome.”
And audiences are quite ready for women to take a seat at the table—more specifically, the head of it. Research from the Creative Artists Agency and shift7 showed that top films starring women in 2014-2017 earned more than the male-led films during the same period, regardless of if they had just a tenth of the budget. Plus, films that passed the Bechdel test also outperformed those that flunked it.
“The perception that it’s not good business to have female leads is not true,” Christy Haubegger, a C.A.A. agent who was part of the research team told the New York Times. “They’re a marketing asset.”
The previous Angels movies came out before we had female superheroes on the big screen—post-Cat Woman but pre-Lara Croft. Now we’ve had female villains and saviors from both the Marvel and DC Universes, as well as Rey in the Star Wars franchise and, my personal favorite, JLo as Ramona in Hustlers.
“Each film when it was made, was [made] for its time,” said Balinska. “This is the film for now.”
Other than the opening scene and some mild flirting between Jane and Noah Centineo’s character, the film doesn’t sell sex like its predecessors. Personally, I didn’t miss it. Stewart’s character fills the void with deadpan humor, and it’s a nice change of pace to focus on the action, not the horniness.
“Someone who saw the movie recently said the movie is really sexy, but it’s not sexual,” Banks said. For instance, the focus of the costuming was giving them space to fight, not “what’s gonna make people want to look at them.”
Balinska is a trained combat performance artist, and the hits look realistic (and freaking painful). It’s not the wire-flying stunts of the aughts, but it’s beautiful and natural and makes you angry that we don’t have 5,000 more movies of best friends doing choreographed dances to Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” before kicking scummy men in the jaw.
“There’s always been a sense that women have to apologize for being good in action movies or justify why they can run and carry a gun.” Banks said. In this movie, “We just are capable.”
Charlie’s Angels is in theaters Friday, Nov. 15.