Reviews portrayed David Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde” as the “female James Bond” flick of the summer — a film in which audiences can cheer on Charlize Theron as she cuts down every bad guy in her way. Playing a British spy sent on a mission to East Berlin, Theron stepped into her role of Lorraine Broughton and was expected to start a new franchise.
Hot on the heels of “Wonder Woman’s” success, “Atomic Blonde” promised to be the film’s darker, cynical stepsister. It was clear the branding of the film relied on having a strong female lead. Formerly known as “The Coldest City” — the title of the graphic novel on which it was based —the film’s title changed to “Atomic Blonde” to make the feminist angle more apparent to audiences.
While “Atomic Blonde” had the markings of any great film — an Oscar winning cast, a respected director, a large budget, and a brilliant soundtrack — it missed its mark.
“Atomic Blonde” was sexy. It was dripping with delicious visuals and scored to a new wave perfection. Mirroring the noir style of the graphic novel, the film was steeped in moody colors, reflecting the chill of Cold-War era Berlin, and reminding the audience that the protagonist, Broughton, has ice in place of a heart. Watching the fight sequences was like watching a beautiful, brutal ballet dancer glide across the screen, packing punches at each turn and sliding effortlessly into kill shots. But that’s all the film was — beautiful. It was all surface — no substance.
Rather than being the killer heroine audiences were promised, we received a weaponized Barbie who was dressed to kill. We see Theron sip vodka, remove sunglasses, and smoke cigarettes for two hours. Her character has no backstory and no depth, but boy did she look great.
Between the perfectly coordinated outfits, leather jackets, and high heels, I found myself paying more attention to what she was wearing than the plot of the film. Perhaps that was the director’s intention.
“Atomic Blonde” was not a feminist film, it was a male fantasy brought to fruition.
I’ll admit, it would be hard not to sexualize Theron. She’s gorgeous, but it’s shameful the film was marketed as a feminist success. The film is full of needless slow pans over Charlize’s barely dressed body. She seductively shares a cigarette with a man she’s straddling and attempting to subdue. Broughton shoots people and slinks into a new scantily-clad dress just in time to hit the club — a club wherein she meets a French woman whom she quickly beds. Yes, in addition to failing feminism, “Atomic Blonde” undermines LGBTQ representation by playing on the “girl-on-girl” fantasy.
This isn’t the first time a “feminist” film failed feminism. Hollywood continually tramples potential female role models, while capitalizing on the feminist “brand.” It’s a cycle of behavior that needs to end. Not only is this move unimaginative and boring — I’m certain audiences have seen enough scantily-clad gunslingers to last them a lifetime — it’s toxic to society’s view of women.
Though films frequently feature female leads, one would think that Hollywood would move past some of its institutionalized hang-ups.
Women held 29 percent of the lead roles in the 100 highest-grossing films in 2016, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” was a smash success. Director Sofia Coppola just won Best Director at Cannes with “Beguiled.”
Nevertheless, female directors constitute the smallest minority within the industry, accounting for only 7 percent of the films made in 2016, according to the San Diego State study. As a result, the vast majority of female leads are in the hands of male directors, and so far, their ability to create a strong female character has proved troubling
Director Joss Whedon was originally intended to write and direct “Wonder Woman.” His script, which leaked to the public after Jenkins’ version debuted, was so egregiously sexist DC Comics distanced itself from the mess. Whedon’s “Wonder Woman” reads about as well as a cheap erotic novel. His script is so clearly written from perspective of a leerin
g male, it’s sickening.
Whedon’s Wonder Woman dances provocatively in a nightclub to gain the attention of an enemy while male onlookers ogle at her beauty. She’s abused, belittled, and scoffed at by men. She’s called a “bitch,” a “whore,” a “feisty little filly.” Whedon’s Wonder Woman is hardly the strong, compassionate character Patty Jenkins offered. Mind you, Whedon is still set todirect Warner Brothers “Bat Girl” and “Justice League.”
Female fans watched in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” as hero Black Widow was reduced to an uber-sexy, fertility-obsessed woman, who’s strung along by her male costar. They watched as DC’s Harley Quinn danced in a nightclub wearing a dog collar bearing the name of her lover.
These characters could have been well-rounded, powerful women. Each was reduced to an object of the male gaze. In action films, the male gaze is the most palpable, and unless Hollywood becomes more open to the female perspective and female directors within the genre, the cycle of weaponized Barbies will persist.
Kayla Stetezel is a senior studying Marketing Management