Atomic BlondeBy Valerie Complex
What should I have expected from the director of John Wick? Well, I expected John Wick, but Atomic Blonde is not that. This is the James Bond gender swap we’ve all been waiting for. So why am disappointed? The hair is great, clothing is sleek and timely, Theron is phenomenal in acting and action, but that’s about it. This is a movie about a woman, written by and for men. Then again, aren’t most films in Hollywood? It’s an issue I’ve become used to. But sometimes male driven storytelling takes precedence over character development and plot flow. This can become overwhelming when men add their masculine idiosyncrasies to their writing, which make me wonder if they know any women at all.
Based on the graphic novel, The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, the film follows British intelligence agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) who bulldozes her way through 1989 Berlin. When she touches down on German soil, she meets fellow agent James Percival (James McAvoy) who knows the ins and outs of East and West Berlin. At the height of the Cold War, it’s a race against the clock to retrieve a top-secret list of names that, if in the wrong hands could get a lot of operatives killed. She is hunted by the KGB, the CIA, and French intelligence rookie Delphine LaSalle (Sofia Boutella). But Lorraine didn’t come to play. She’s an efficient killer, with hand to hand fighting and shooting skills that lay waste to 200-pound men.
Adapted to screen by Kurt Johnstad, you can tell he wanted to create a female version of James Bond. Lorraine Broughton is it. She is almost a carbon copy. She works for MI6, comes with her own ‘Atomic Blonde Girl,’ damsel, and even has her drink of choice (Stoli Vodka on the rocks). She isn’t objectified either. Sure, Lorraine spends half the movie naked or half naked, but it isn’t hyper sexualized.
And there is no better actress qualified to be Hollywood’s next action hero than Charlize Theron. There is a lot of behind the scenes footage for Atomic Blonde that features Theron in fight training. She’s worked with some of the same stunt folks from John Wick, and while her fighting style doesn’t have the finesse of John Wick’s, she has fierce determination with power and conviction behind every hit. Trust me, Charlize is badass, the same can’t be said for the discombobulated story.
Lorraine is on a mission from her majesty’s secret service because that’s her job, but I never got the sense of who Lorraine Broughton really is. James Percival is the only character with a well-grounded story arch. All the other characters are thinly written, which is pretty obvious when none of their motivations become clear. There are also some pacing issues as the movie isn’t the action packed romp the trailers makes you believe it is. It includes a lot of unnecessary exposition that bores the hell out of me because it doesn’t elevate the plot in anyway.
The other problems lie in the representation queer characters. The same sex scene between Lorraine and Delphine is so outside the realm reality that it’s uncomfortable to watch. Its saturated in male gaze. Is there no one who they could have consulted on this? I don’t know any lesbian couples who have sex like that. And Sofia Boutella is criminally underused. She’s is on display for T&A, just like every other Bond girl in existence. This wouldn’t have been a problem if she had not been disposed of in such a sexually repugnant manner.
Director David Leitch creates a gorgeous looking film that’s an assault on the senses. There are enough bright lights and loud 80s music to send you into an epileptic seizure. Red, blues, neons, give it that neo-noir look comparable to a Nicolas Winding-Refn movie. Given that music at the time had given way to the new wave, that’s what you can expect, but after an hour of getting my ears blown, the music becomes cacophonous. There music in every scene. The audience never gets a rest. I get it, the soundtrack contains some great nostalgic hits, but it almost feels like an over-reliance on aesthetics to hide how inept the script is.
What sets Charlize Theron above so many other actresses–especially women in action–is Charlize isn’t afraid to look like someone who just got her ass beat. I just love the work she put into this performance the how she isn’t afraid to take risks. If there is anyone more qualified to becoming Hollywood’s next action hero, it’s her. With a great stunt team working on the film, it has some of the best fight scenes I have seen in years. But I like a good story as well, and Atomic Blonde needs work. I hope Charlize chooses to produce edgy action material written by women. It’s not that I’m looking for action heroines to be feminine. I am looking for them to be based in some reality.