If you thought Charlize Theron kicked ass as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road... she was just getting started.
Coming on the heels of the biggest female-led action movie ever (Wonder Woman), Atomic Blonde hits theaters July 28, 2017. Theron stars as an undercover spy in Berlin in the final days of Germany’s East-West division. The gender of the main character is really where the Wonder Woman similarities end, however. This is a violent, R-rated thriller more deserving of its “female James Bond” comparisons.
If you have ever watched a spy movie, you know this story: Double agents, double crossing, shoot-em-up, so on and so on. There’s nothing revelatory about the plot.
What you haven’t seen before in one of these movies is a female lead with such jaw-dropping brutal fight scenes. Much of the pre-release publicity for the film has focused on Theron’s skill with fight choreography and the fact that she performed most of her own stunts. And wow-is it impressive. (I thought about titling this review “She won an Oscar for Monster, but now Charlize Theron is a Beast!” But I would never write anything that cheesy. Nope.)
Atomic Blonde can be summed up in one word: Cool. Everything about this movie is literally (the snowy setting) or figuratively (perfect eyeliner) cool. The muted gray color palette with splashes of neon, the pounding 80s soundtrack, Theron’s wardrobe of increasingly fabulous long coats; it’s all just so darn cool.
And front and center is the coolest thing I’ve seen onscreen in a long time: Charlize Theron as a smart, sexy spy, battling her way through one of the most impressive action sequences I’ve EVER seen in a movie. Credit goes to both the amazing actress and director David Leitch, himself a former stuntman.
The supporting cast includes James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella (whose character’s purpose and arc are perhaps the film’s biggest derivative of James Bond tropes), Toby Huss, the always-wonderful John Goodman, and Bill Skarsgård, who I’m personally starting to find even more attractive than his big brother Alex – Calling it now: I’m going to have some problematic feelings about the new Stephen King's It.
Now for the downside. The Bond comparisons are warranted, but not all in a positive manner. Despite such a strong female lead (and Theron's credit as a producer), the film is Male Gaze 101.
Our heroine fights in impractically tight miniskirts and stiletto heels, the much ballyhooed lesbian sex scene is gratuitous and porn-edified, and most egregiously, there's a disturbingly sexualized murder of a female character, complete with lingering shots of her dead body in skimpy lingerie.
Yeah, this definitely ain't WONDER WOMAN.
But, even if women aren’t going to walk out of this one feeling exactly empowered, they may still feel as I did after leaving the theater. The overall elation of having just experienced pure COOL in cinematic form. I blasted some New Order, drove a little too fast, and let myself daydream about beating the crap out of bad guys while wearing an amazing coat.