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The first trailer for the latest reboot of the Charlie’s Angels franchise dropped this week, and to the delight and surprise of most of us, it looks pretty rad. Directed by Elizabeth Banks, best known for The Hunger Games and Pitch Perfect series, this new iteration of the story puts Kristen Stewart front and center, with newcomer Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott from the recent live-action remake of Aladdin by her side. The setup is familiar: A trio of highly skilled women work for a mysterious figure as private investigators, taking on only the riskiest and most glamorous of cases, the kinds that regular law enforcement just aren’t equipped to handle.
This new story is a continuation of sorts from the other stories, with the enigmatic Charlie's Townsend agency now a global organization featuring multiple women and multiple Bosleys assisting them in their schemes. When Elena (Naomi Scott), a bright-eyed engineer, decides to blow the whistle on her boss's dangerous technology, she turns to the Angels for help, and soon becomes a partner with Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) as they fight to stop the bad guys from getting their hands on a destructive new toy. Joining them are their posse of Bosleys, including Djimon Hounsou, Elizabeth Banks, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
This trailer has EVERYTHING: dramatic wig removals, Janelle Monae music, wardrobes FULL of fashion, Kristen Stewart spanking herself with a jockey's whip, PATRICK STEWART, a choreographed dance scene, the return of Noah Centineo, AND a new song from Ariana, Miley, and Lana that you'll no doubt be humming for weeks.The original Charlie's Angels series, which ran on ABC from 1976 to 1981, was a pop culture phenomenon that was instantly recognizable, easily parodied, and roundly dismissed by the zeitgeist at large. Audiences loved it, making it a top-10 hit in Nielsen ratings for its first two seasons, but critics were far more cynical. NBC executive Paul Klein referred to the series' blatantly salacious style and lowbrow pandering as "jiggle television," referring to ... well, you know what he's referring to. It, along with shows like Melrose Place and Baywatch, were viewed mostly in terms of their potential for light voyeurism, prime-time opportunities to see gorgeous actresses scantily clad with the vague excuse of a plot to hold it together.
But at its heart, Charlie's Angels is a great story. Three women, underestimated by a patriarchal society, become heroines in an almost fantastical manner, doing good and looking great. So it was no surprise that 2000 brought a cinematic reboot of the series, with three of the era's most famous women front and center. Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Drew Barrymore make for a charismatic trio, and their duology of Charlie's Angels movies veer between being extremely fun and kind of embarrassing. They seem designed to be categorized as "guilty pleasures," indulging in self-conscious camp and the utterly unreal but still feeling the need to leer over their stars. They're super early 2000s in how they view cinematic empowerment as a hot woman in a skimpy outfit who can kick men in the face with her stiletto heels.
But then we have this new movie, and from the looks of that trailer, it seems that things may be improving for the franchise and its eponymous angels.
First of all, and I cannot stress how much of a difference this simple decision can make, this is the first version of the story helmed by a woman. Even as we've progressed at a rapid pace over this past decade, it remains embarrassingly rare for a woman director to get to be in charge of an action film, especially one that’s entirely about women (and majority women of color, at that). Elizabeth Banks directs and stars, and as she told Entertainment Weekly, her aims for the movie were clear: “It was important to me to make a movie about women working together and supporting each other, and not make a movie about their romantic entanglements or their mother they don’t call enough. When I’m at work, I don’t talk about those things. I get on with my job. It felt important to do that for the Angels, to treat them with the respect their skill set demands."
But the difference is also in the aesthetic. The trailer is zippy, full of action, colorful locations, and stunning costumes, but it’s also devoid of that pernicious male gaze. There are no perving shots of anyone’s bra and the camera never, to quote David Edelstein’s review of Spring Breakers, glides up, down, or around these women's bodies like a giant tongue. Indeed, even in their most lavish outfits, they're not styled to be the objects of straight dude sex appeal. Stewart goes undercover as a jockey and is dressed appropriately, not like the sexy Halloween costume version of one, as past iterations of the story undoubtedly would have done. The women are chicly dressed, modern and sparkly and styled for themselves. That’s not to say they couldn’t be as interesting or appealing had they gone full Pussycat Dolls as Liu, Diaz, and Barrymore did in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, but after decades of male filmmakers deciding what a heroine gets to dress like and whose benefit it is for, it’s refreshing to see the alternative.
This is also a Charlie’s Angels with a mostly unknown leading trio. It's Ella Balinska's first major role, and Naomi Scott only recently entered "A Whole New World" of recognition as the new Princess Jasmine. But let's be honest: We're here for Kristen Stewart. And whoa Nelly, does she deliver.
Here’s the thing: Kristen Stewart is awesome. Not only is she super talented — and boy, do some people on social media get real mad when you say that — but she’s incredibly charismatic in a deceptively quiet way. One minute she’s looking at you pensively, then all of a sudden you’re tweeting out requests that she stomp all over your face so you can thank her for the privilege. Post-Twilight, Stewart has become one of the most in-demand indie actresses of her generation. She’s won awards, critical acclaim, and major headlines mostly for her quietness, for those narratives where the focus is on how quietly devastating she can be without saying a word. She’s also received her fair share of derision for it, being written off as a sullen brat, mostly by people who watched one Twilight film then shaped their opinions from there. It’s rare to see Stewart get to be funny and magnetic or just see her having an absolute blast, and this trailer has been the much-needed shot in the arm a lot of movie lovers needed to remind them of Stewart’s powers. When you saw her yank that wig off or prowl around in that leopard print jumpsuit, didn’t you feel that thrill?
Crucially, this is a trailer that shows a bunch of people having the time of their lives. Everyone involved seems to be relishing working on something that is so unabashedly fun, completely rejecting the emotional weightiness and overwhelming penchant for grimdark that Hollywood still seems to think is all anyone wants. Why can’t we have a simple entertaining movie where women get sh*t done, don’t constantly squabble over men, and aren’t positioned to be exclusively gawked at by an assumed majority straight dude audience? As seen by the recent evolution of women in action cinema, from Wonder Woman to Captain Marvel and beyond, our expectations are justifiably higher for what Hollywood can do. Fortunately, the trailer for Charlie’s Angels gives us hope that our needs are being understood.
Charlie’s Angels premieres on November 15, 2019.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.