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Unknown Cast, High-Tech Gadgets, & No Apologies — How Elizabeth Banks Made a Modern Charlie’s Angels Come to Life

We love a good reboot, but we’re sick of reboots that don’t meaningfully change or improve anything from the original. Luckily, that doesn’t seem to be the case with the new Charlie’s Angels. Instead, Elizabeth Banks’s Charlie’s Angels is a modern take on a flawed franchise. It makes clear choices to differentiate itself from the original in style, tone, and perspective. If you’re a woman or a feminist, we think you’ll find the changes for the better.

Banks and her three Angels — Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska — recently explained to EW how this 2019 film will be different from what came before. Some differences are as simple as a change in structure: While the Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu-led films featured a sequence on the women’s backstories before diving in, Banks chose to skip that.

“I felt that those beginnings were a way to apologize for the fact that these women were doing a job that you weren’t used to women doing,” Banks explains. “Versus 18 years later I don’t need to explain how she got her f—ing skills. As audiences we accept that women can do anything.”

Another key difference was the injection of emotion and female camaraderie into the franchise: various scenes feature hugging and crying from these strong women, a choice Banks was “adamant” about from day one. “That’s what distinguishes Charlie’s Angels from James Bond, Jason Bourne, Mission: Impossible,” she tells EW. “This is what you get to do in the girl version of this movie that draws you in because it feels real. It is real. I cry at work.”

Stewart agrees that this vulnerability was key to embracing a new kind of strength: “In no way are we stronger when we’re not acknowledging our emotions,” the actress says. “That is a weakness.”

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Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska, and Naomi Scott in Elizabeth Banks’s ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ Image: Sony Pictures. Sony Pictures.

In other words, this movie expects a more advanced understanding of female power from its viewers. Talented female secret agents don’t need to have their skills explained, and we can watch them exhibit normal human emotions without the movie suggesting that they’re weaker for it.

One other thing that’s notably missing? All those oh-so-objectifying, body-scanning shots of the Angels “distracting” their male victims — the bald-faced evocations of the male gaze that made it difficult to ever pretend Charlie’s Angels was really about female empowerment.

Per EW’s read, this movie has cut down on shots like that in a major way. “I feel like that’s not what people want to see anymore,” says Balinska. “What people do want to see is smart, intelligent, trained, emotionally activated, powerful, strong, witty women who win, lose, laugh, fail, succeed, and figure things out.”

Speaking of Balinska — another key way this film departs from the franchise is in its casting. Stewart is a big-name star, and where the 2000s version of these films featured three big names, this production took a chance on the lesser-known Scott and Balinska. Scott is particular is a relative unknown — while she stars in Disney’s 2019 Aladdin, that film hadn’t even been released at the time of casting.

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Ella Balinska in Elizabeth Banks’s ‘Charlie’s Angels.’ Image: Sony Pictures. Sony Pictures.

Producer Doug Belgrad describes the difference like this: “The two movies that were made at Sony 20 years ago cast a long shadow…You had three great actresses, two of whom were among the biggest in the world. We love our cast and think they’re fresh and exciting and all three of them have huge star power — but the studio had to make a bet.”

So, what does it mean that the studio made that bet on a female-directed, female ensemble cast movie? Hopefully, they’ll recognize audiences’ hunger for authentic diversity in storytelling — not just in who we’re casting, but in who is behind the scenes making the choices about how those stories are told.

Banks, in particular, expresses frustration about half-hearted “women’s empowerment” movies in which male-designed characters and plotlines aren’t changed at all, except for making the lead a woman. “Did you go all the way…or did you just get Angelina Jolie to play the role that Tom Cruise didn’t want?” the Pitch Perfect star asks.

Ultimately, Banks doesn’t know what it means that the studio took a chance on this project — or why it’s news for them to do so. “This movie is a solution to a problem but we are not the problem,” she says frankly. “And if you want to investigate the problem you should ask the problem. So call those men up and ask them, ‘Why won’t you let us make these movies and why don’t you give us as much money?’ I’d love to know the answer.”

So would we.

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