Why Atomic Blonde Failed Us

Since it’s release last month, Atomic Blonde starring Charlize Theron and James McAvoy, has earned $62 million on a $30 million budget and has received many positive reviews. The film is directed by David Leitch, his solo directorial debut since John Wick. Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton an MI6 spy who is sent to Berlin in 1989 to eliminate a double agent with the help of agent David Percival (McAvoy). The film is one of the handful of action films to star a female lead character and has been greatly praised for its action sequences, with many calling it the female version of the successful John Wick films.

Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart, the film has slight variations from the comic. For example, McAvoy’s character in the comic is much older and we are introduced to another female agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) in the film, where as in the comic Lorraine is the only female agent. However, one of the most drastic changes is Lorraine’s sexuality. In the comic she is straight, as we see her enter a relationship with a man but in the film her character’s sexuality is different. She goes from being close to a male agent to sleeping with another agent, Delphine. The two meet at a club and a chemistry sparks between them almost instantly, and then turns into a sexual relationship. When questioned by her superiors about this encounter, Lorraine simply explains ‘I believe she had information I could exploit. Nothing more.’. And of course her sexual intercourse with Delphine is shown in an incredibly sexy and provocative scene.

I like to call this trait, ‘I kissed a girl and I liked it’. It’s an extremely popular trait in female characters, especially in action films. These characters are straight but they are absolutely okay with sleeping with the same sex for any reason except being a lesbian or bisexual. Imagine John Wick even suggesting having sexual intercourse with men for any other reason than being attracted to them. Tom Cruise is currently filming the sixth instalment for the Mission Impossible series and never in any of the films has his straight sexuality been questioned or ‘experimented’ with. In 2012 Javier Bardem portrayed Silva, the villain in Skyfall opposite Daniel Craig’s James Bond. One of the most talked about scenes in the film was when Silva stroked Bond’s leg in an erotic way asking ‘Well there’s a first time for everything, yes?’, to which Bond replies ‘What makes you think this is my first time?”.

Many saw this as a confirmation of Bond’s fluid sexuality and praised the scene. However, we’ve never seen Bond kiss or have any other encounter suggesting his fluid sexuality in the previous 22 films in the franchise. That is 22 missed opportunities to show and confirm Bond’s fluid sexuality, which instead they use these to show Bond’s straight sexuality, by having him go around kissing and having sex with women. The double standards here are appalling. According to the ‘I kissed a girl and I liked it’ trait, Bond should have immediately been shown having a sexual intercourse with a man as this is what is done with same female characters. So not only are women forced this ‘carefree’ characteristic, we are also forced to prove it and show it to the audience, more specifically to the male gaze. Whether it’s Theron having sex with a female spy or Cameron Diaz and Demi Moore sharing a sexual chemistry 5 seconds after meeting at the beach in their bikinis with their wet bodies in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

Although this is a popular trait in the action genre, it isn’t inclusive to it. Romance, drama, horror and thriller genres all include this trait. Another example is the horror film Jennifer’s Body starring Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried as the lead characters, who have been best friends forever and have been straight up until the moment where they share a sexy kiss scene on a bed. What’s more disturbing is that their characters are high school girls. The problem here isn’t their sexuality; the problem is portraying young girls as being ‘carefree’ or ‘experimental’ about their sexuality for the male gaze. This shows the girls watching the film that they also should be like the characters. It shows that straight girls can kiss and like girls without labelling them. This automatically erases lesbians and bisexuals. Another problem with the film is the kissing scene. It’s 100% fan service for the male gaze who fantasise not only about clichéd lesbians but also about young high school girls. This not only affects young girls but it also fuels perverted minds interested in young girls.

Atomic Blonde was supposed to be a breakthrough for women in the action genre, similar to Salt back in 2010. It was supposed to finally show that gender is insignificant when it comes to ‘masculine’ genres. It was supposed to be a refreshing action film among the big franchises like Bond and Bourne. It was supposed to give and ultimately be the voice for women among the man-dominated industry. However, we were disappointed. Instead, we were a given a film written by men for men. We were presented with a female character with the same exact characteristics as any other male action character. Instead of making women feel empowered with their body and sexuality, they put us on display once again and used our ‘sexuality’ as fan service for the male audience. This was a film a lot of women, including me, were looking forward to. A good action film with a female lead just seems too much for Hollywood. It seems our next hope lies in the Tomb Raider reboot starring Alicia Vikander, expected to be released in 2018.

Author: Busra Mutlu

Editor: Ammaarah Mookadam

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Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!

You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.

From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.

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