Warning: This story contains mild spoilers for Atomic Blonde.
Here's a controversial opinion: I don't want a female James Bond. It's not because I believe that 007 is a macho role that a woman would be unable to take on. On the contrary, I'm sure that a woman could kick Daniel Craig's ass. But should she have to fill a man's Crockett & Jones shoes to do it?
Enter Atomic Blonde, the new spy-thriller directed by David Leitch, which stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, a leather-clad deadly British asset sent to retrieve vital information from 1989 Berlin, mere days before the fall of the wall.
Like Bond, Broughton works for MI6, the British intelligence services. And yes, she's broody. But that's where the similarities end, despite what Chris Hemsworth thinks. That's because Broughton isn't a female version of a spy. She's a female spy, period.
Before Wonder Woman changed the game, women in action movies tended to fall into three categories: the love interest, the hot nerd who becomes the love interest, and the tough girl, who, after a series of will-they-won't-theys and mellow fight scenes, finally learns to love. (And to be honest, much as I adore Wonder Woman, even she couldn't resist the magnetic pull of Chris Pine, by far the superior Chris.)
The first time we see Broughton, she's lying in a bathtub filled with ice cubes, her body covered in scary-looking purple bruises. She emerges from the icy depths, steps out onto the marble floor, plops some more ice in a glass, and pours herself a vodka on the rocks. (Later in the film, we see how she came to be so black and blue, in one of the most violent fight scenes in the history of movies.) This is not a woman who needs saving. This is not a woman who hitches her star to a man, no matter how babe-ly James McAvoy looks as a punk rock bandit. In fact, her fling is a woman (the impossibly cool Sofia Boutella), which shouldn't be monumental but remains noteworthy in such a mainstream film.
This is a woman who does her fighting in a series of glamorous black turtlenecks, mini-skirts and thigh-high boots — flat ones, of course; she's not a masochist. Heels are to be used as a weapon. She doesn't hide her bruises. Instead, she wears them like armour. They stop people from needlessly approaching her.
Broughton isn't a female version of a spy. She's a female spy, period.
I understand the urge to compare Broughton to Bond. They are, in many ways, cut from the same cloth. They're emotionally unavailable, damaged, and chic AF. In an interview with W Magazine back in June, Theron herself made the connection. "Lorraine is a little bit like Bond," she said. "He drinks a lot of martinis, doesn’t he? Shaken or not stirred, or whatever they are. Yeah, Lorraine and James are equally messed up. Maybe they should marry! Maybe they should have a baby! That would be an interesting baby."
With all due respect to Theron, I disagree. Bond fights two things: the bad guys, and his own demons. But as a woman, Broughton brings a new foe to the table: the patriarchy. Being a badass super spy doesn't prevent Broughton from being underestimated and objectified. I honestly lost track of how many times she was called "suka," the Russian word for "bitch."
But perhaps the most satisfying part of Atomic Blonde is how she reacts to all that. She doesn't take a swing at a lone bad guy, only to miss and fall over, leaving the man to save the day. She takes on five highly-trained KGB officers at a time, taking them out methodically until she can barely stand. She's not invincible — the fighting takes a toll — but she's not a token female badass, either. And literal cheers erupted in the theatre when, after eliminating a particularly stubborn enemy, she deadpanned: "Am I a bitch now?"
Playing a strong female character is old hat for Charlize Theron, who basically stole the show from Tom Hardy as Furiosa in Mad Max. In an interview with Refinery29's Arianna Davis, Theron explained the importance of such roles, and why she's drawn to them. "I guess it's because deep down inside, I actually believe that that's what we are," she said. "We are more capable than we are often portrayed in movies to be. And we're not necessarily given the right amount of credit for being that capable. So I try really hard to make my roles reflect women the way I believe we really are."
These aren't empty words: Theron trained so intensely that she cracked two teeth, and had to undergo a a series of root canals. And that's why I feel so strongly against a female 007. It's not because I think Idris Elba deserves a chance (although he does!), or because Daniel Craig was just re-cast despite claiming he'd rather die by suicide than reprise the role (ugh!). It's because we don't need a woman-version of a male character. We need a fully-fledged, complex woman who stands on her own. And Atomic Blonde gives us just that.
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