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'It's always been about the chemistry of the Angels, the incredible sense of sorority and sisterhood'

It marked the beginning of female empowerment on TV, insists director Elizabeth Banks, and it's back with a film that speaks to the 21st century. Gemma Dunn chats to the stars of the latest Charlie's Angels chapter

Packing a punch: Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott
Packing a punch: Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott

By Gemma Dunn

She built a female franchise in Pitch Perfect, and now Elizabeth Banks is set to continue her bold vision with the latest reincarnation of Charlie's Angels.

And serving as writer, director, producer and star of the franchise's latest iteration, she's certainly in good stead to steer it in the right direction.

Her target? To modernise the brand for a 21st century audience.

"I really wanted to build on the themes of camaraderie and sisterhood that I felt worked so well in the Pitch Perfect series," explains 45-year-old Banks, who produced and starred in the hit musical rom-com, before making its sequel her feature directorial debut.

"There are so few films with multiple female leads out there," she bemoans.

"I felt like Charlie's Angels was a way to tell a story involving more than one female lead - three great, powerful women that have agency over their lives, and are the driving force behind the story.

"These characters were women who worked in a man's world and had to make their own way," she reasons. "You just hadn't seen women kicking butt in any genre before - it was revolutionary. They really stood for something.

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"I didn't really understand how rare it was until now," she follows, musing over the high-octane plot. "I'm thinking, 'Are there other models for this movie?' And there really aren't. The other models for this movie are the other versions of Charlie's Angels."

The action comedy, the likes of which serves as a continuation of the story that began with Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts' Seventies television phenomenon, is marked as the third chapter in the film series, succeeding Charlie's Angels (2000) and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003).

In Banks' version, Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska (this generation's trio of fearless Angels) are working for the mysterious Charles Townsend, whose security and investigative agency has expanded internationally.

Elizabeth Banks
Elizabeth Banks

Now, with the world's smartest, bravest, and most highly trained women all over the globe, there are teams of Angels, it is reported, taking on the toughest jobs everywhere.

It was important to reintroduce the Townsend heritage, says Banks: "I wanted to answer the question: What had Charles Townsend built over the past 40 years?

"I felt that one of the opportunities here was to reintroduce the Townsend Agency and the idea of 'what are Charlie's Angels?' to a new generation that may not know what the heck is going on. And also to let them understand that we're building on a long legacy that already exists."

"Liz took this world that we've all gotten familiar with and just expanded it," says Kristen Stewart (29), who plays wildcard Angel, Sabina.

"She hit fast forward and thought, 'Where would we be circa 2018-19?' There's more of us. We're louder. We are stronger in numbers. And that really goes along with this distinct sense of self that we're developing in this particular generation," muses the Twilight actor.

"We don't glorify our characters as if they're heroes, as if you couldn't be one of them. For it's not about doing a bunch of push-ups and pulling a gun on a bad guy; it's about outsmarting someone and doing it for a good reason, and that will genuinely be what prevails."

As for wild card Sabina, "(If) she was a dog, she would be the mutt at the shelter that was definitely going to take a bullet for you, and I wanted to bring this levity to the character," says Stewart, who, much like her co-stars, has fond memories of the earlier reboots.

"In the beginning of the movie, Sabina seems the most social, outgoing... like she has all the friends in the world. But she's just trying to find her team. She would do anything to have friends, she just wants her family."

Then there's Jane Kano, a former MI6 agent who is everything Sabina is not: "Straight-laced, determined, focused," Ella Balinska (23) says of her breakout role. She finds her strength in physical activity, she's very disciplined, and never fails to get the job done."

Completing the unit is Elena, played by Aladdin's Naomi Scott (26), the brilliant scientist - and brains of the operation - that the women are charged with protecting.

"Elena represents the type of girl that may not be someone that you would think would necessarily be an Angel - the idea being that anyone can be an Angel," says Scott.

"It's about honing your own skills and being the best you can, to actually do good."

It's this overriding positive message that stands the test of time, believes Banks.

"It's always been about the chemistry of the women, and I feel like the Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu (version) had that, and these three women also have an incredible sense of sorority and sisterhood."

"It's a cool time for this particular movie," agrees Stewart. "Just because it feels good to watch girls comfortable and confident. And yes the movie has a cause, but at the same time, to me, it's very much earned.

"The reason I loved the original movies is because they looked like they were having a lot of fun and they were best friends - and that's the best feeling, to be bolstered by your girls," she recognises.

"When I was little, I was like, 'Man, I want that. I want to be one of those guys, I want to hang out with them, I want to kick it...' So I think that's never going to be a feeling that people don't crave."

Banks also stars in the epic as Rebekah Bosley, a former Angel who became one of Charlie's assistants and the first female Bosley to date.

Her chance to lasso the Angels into a unit, per se, demonstrates her empowering message perfectly.

"I wanted to make something that felt important to women and girls that was a celebration of their potential in the world today - and what women can accomplish, especially when they work together.

"The fact these women complement each other, that they cry on each other's shoulders, have each other's backs, that's the thing that I think is most appealing.

"We are standing on the shoulders of the Angels that came before us," she states proudly. "Drew (Barrymore's) version definitely stood on the shoulder of the television show, and here we are 40 years later!

"It really speaks to the fact that these are so few and far between," she finishes. "This is really a singular franchise where the DNA is about women who love their job."

Charlie's Angels is in cinemas now

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