Atomic Blonde: The Badass Action Hero We Need

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Atomic Blonde: The Badass Action Hero We Need

Illustration: Cleon Dsouza

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alfway through the hyper-stylish, neon-lit existence of David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde, comes a jaw-droppingly stunning action set piece. It’s great to look at, but it also holds a clue to the film’s vision for its lead protagonist, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron). In the scene, easily the film’s pièce de résistance, Lorraine, an MI6 agent tasked with the mission to hunt for a stolen list of agents that compromise their real identities, is seen protecting Spyglass, the Stasi defector who compiled that very list.

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Lorraine is out to find the men who have wounded Spyglass in a failed assassination attempt. What follows, is a dangerously brutal and bloodied battle, one that appears to be a single, continuous take (but actually comprising 40 separate cuts) where Lorraine tackles half a dozen KGB goons on the building stairwell, inside an apartment, employing furniture as weapons, out on the street, and eventually from inside a car.

Theron’s Lorraine is smack in the centre of the ruthlessly choreographed throwdowns in this orgy of violence, as any action hero would be. She punches, throws her body in every direction, and even manipulates whatever is available as makeshift weapons. Blood splashes, heads are smashed against walls, shots are judiciously fired through that 10-minute sequence: You might as well be watching a Stallone or a Schwarzenegger in the same setting.

But you’re not, and therein lies the tale. It’s certainly been a while since a film treated its action heroine with such un-gendered nonchalance. Lorraine single-handedly kicks ample ass but is also lobbed around like a ragdoll there is no sanitisation of the action just because she’s a woman. Theron’s Lorraine is able to transcend the trappings of a stereotyped action heroine to turn into a character who belongs in the same company as James Bond and John Wick.

Theron’s Lorraine is wildly reminiscent of Hollywood’s greatest woman action hero: Uma Thurman’s Beatrix in the Kill Bill gore fest.

In a Hollywood universe populated by women-led action films that range between being soapy and CGI-drowned affairs, Leitch’s detachment from gendered sensibilities is quietly revolutionary. It’s most definitely a stark contrast from Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, the definitive woman-led franchise, which in its urgency to give the world a long-overdue woman superhero was forced to focus on her gender.

As a result, the film’s action sequences are overstuffed with computer-generated effects. It’s the reason why the final showdown between Diana and Ares, the God Of War, felt so tension-free, despite the gravity of that climactic crescendo. As an audience royally invested in the life and times of Diana, we had to make do with understanding the significance of her victory in theory, instead of feeling or celebrating her transformation.

Atomic Blonde

Similar to the way Beatrix is fuelled by the idea of revenge, Lorraine too is propelled by the untimely death of her lover, despite her steely nonchalance at being informed of his death.

Image Credit / Miramax Films

In fact, Lorraine’s badassery feels much like an extension of the vision behind Imperator Furiosa, the one-armed, apocalyptic trucker of 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Furiosa, also played by Theron, is the character who initiates the film’s action by rebelling against Immortan Joe, making off with his Five Wives, and striking out in a desert in a war rig. She’s as much as the protagonist as the eponymous Max, and the film exploits her combat skills to the hilt. In the minds of the audience, she’s as much an action hero, as the rest of her gang.

Far more than Furiosa, Theron’s Lorraine is wildly reminiscent of Hollywood’s greatest woman action hero: Uma Thurman’s Beatrix in the Kill Bill gore fest. Similar to the way Beatrix is fuelled by the idea of revenge, Lorraine too is propelled by the untimely death of her lover, despite her steely nonchalance at being informed of his death. For her, succeeding in her mission, is not just a matter of principle, but also a way of bringing her late lover to justice by completing what he couldn’t.

Atomic Blonde

Theron’s Lorraine is smack in the centre of the ruthlessly choreographed throwdowns in this orgy of violence, as any action hero would be.

Image Credit / Focus Features

I hope Atomic Blonde and Kill Bill will serve as instruction for upcoming films centered on women action heroes: Jennifer Lawrence is due to to essay the role of a sexy Russian spy in Red Sparrow and Taraji P Henson plays a slick hitwoman for the mob in Proud Mary. Together, the two films injected a lesson into our collective conscience years ago with a great woman action hero, comes great responsibility to disregard gender stereotypes. If that seems too heavy, there’s always Charlize Theron’s bruised and bloodied face from Atomic Blonde for inspiration.

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