Charlie's Angels

 

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An old brand is given a fresh shot of modernity and female empowerment in this surprisingly enjoyable, cosmopolitan caper.

 

Charlie's Angels

Snap, crackle and pop: Ella, Kristen and Naomi

  

The multiplex is full of surprises. After the excruciating inanity of the film of the same name (2000) – based on the TV series of the same name – the brand looked as dated as Dido. And the last instalment, Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle (2003), co-produced by Drew Barrymore, was even worse. Yet perhaps the real surprise is that this accomplished resurrection of the franchise is the work of just one woman: Elizabeth Banks. Banks, who has cast herself in the role of Bosley, has crafted a whip-smart package armed with sinewy plot turns, snappy dialogue and smart choices. Working from an inventive plot devised by Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn, the actress-filmmaker gets sole credit as scenarist and director and is also co-producer. This is her baby and she has ripped the diaper off. The film is less about athletic, bra-less, poster-ready babes than intelligent, committed women with bags of personality.

 

Possibly Banks’ most daring choice is to cast a complete unknown in the central role of former MI6 agent Jane Kano. But the 5’10”, London-born Ella Balinska inhabits the part with cat-like grace and focus and almost steals the film from her more famous co-stars. She’s also got an engaging chemistry with Kristen Stewart, who, as the rebellious, highbred Sabina Wilson, has never seemed to enjoy herself so much on film. And completing the trio is fellow Londoner Naomi Scott (Princess Jasmine in Aladdin), a nerdy but preternaturally brilliant scientist who is Dudley Moore to Balinska’s Peter Cook.

 

For a film two hours’ long, this Mission: Impossible in lipstick and high heels barely has an ounce of fat on its bones, jumping from Rio de Janeiro to Istanbul, via Hamburg, Berlin and London, spinning yarn like a flying shuttle. While the plot is certainly ingenious – concerning a portable, weaponised energy source – it is merely the frame on which to hang a series of gripping action set pieces, comic skits and breathless banter. How one exchange between the four women segues from The Birdman of Alcatraz to Ben Affleck should delight film buffs everywhere. What was once the escapist equivalent of bubblegum, Elizabeth Banks has turned into halva – sweet, yes, but also exotic and delicious.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Noah Centineo, Nat Faxon, Patrick Stewart, Chris Pang, Jonathan Tucker, Luis Gerardo Méndez, Hannah Hoekstra, David Schütter, Marie-Lou Sellem, Hailee Steinfeld, Lili Reinhart, Laverne Cox, Jaclyn Smith.

 

Dir Elizabeth Banks, Pro Doug Belgrad, Elizabeth Cantillon, Max Handelman and Elizabeth Banks, Ex Pro Drew Barrymore, Screenplay Elizabeth Banks, Ph Bill Pope, Pro Des Aaron Haye, Ed Alan Baumgarten and Mary Jo Markey, Music Brian Tyler, Costumes Kym Barrett.

 

Columbia Pictures/Perfect World Pictures/2.0 Entertainment/Brownstone Productions/Cantillon Company-Sony Pictures.

119 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 29 November 2019. Cert. 12A.