“The only healthy depiction of a complex, romantic relationship in Atomic Blonde takes place between Lorraine and Delphine.”
Title: Atomic Blonde (2017)
Director: David Leitch 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writer: Original graphic novel by Antony Johnston 👨🏼🇬🇧 and Sam Hart 👨🏼🇬🇧🇧🇷, screenplay by Kurt Johnstad 👨🏼
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Atomic Blonde an ass-kicking music video set to hits from the 80s and grounded by a running baseline of double agent intrigue. Some critics call the movie empty or too long, but if neon lighting, thigh-high boots and a plethora of attractive spies and fantastic fight choreography is your jam—as it is mine, to a T—then what are you waiting for? Get thee to a theater.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? YES
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 38% of creative decision-makers were female
Having a female protagonist—a powerful one who fights, schemes, and is morally ambiguous but who also shows vulnerabilities both physical and emotional—gets this movie an easy ace on Gender. I considered dinging for dated optics of Lorraine (Charlize Theron) somehow managing to do jump kicks in 4-inch stilettos and having a trope-ish collection of fabulous spy wigs that would rival that of Lady Bunny, but when the men are equally presented—James McAvoy as the feral, Berlin-embedded British spy David Percival spends much of the film shirtless—then I’d rather not split hairs when it’s obvious that Atomic Blonde successfully portrays women as equal to (or better than) men and, better yet, does so while appealing to both male and female audiences.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 10% of creative decision-makers were POC
No ostensible characters of color but accurate to film setting of 1980s Berlin. Historically, the primary ethnic minorities in Berlin were Jews and Eastern Europeans, all of whom fall under the definition of what the U.S. Census Bureau terms as “white” in modern day lexicon.
Some non-white migration waves to Berlin include Turkish guest workers during in the 1960s or refugees fleeing the Vietnam War in the 1970s, but these populations tallied in the tens of thousands at the time of this film's setting.
That being said, the actor who plays French spy Delphine (Sofia Boutella) is half Algerian, half French. Her character is both positive and well-rounded which helps lift this score. I only wish that [SPOILER] she hadn't been so ignominiously fridged—killed off—as her status as the only person of color and LGBTQ status both come with a long history of being narratively disposed of. [END SPOILER]
The only healthy depiction of a complex, romantic relationship in Atomic Blonde takes place between Lorraine, who is bisexual (the story hints at a prior relationship with a man), and Delphine. In just a short span of time, I found myself rooting for this relationship and while their hot-like-burning sex scene neatly caters to the male gaze, their characters are developed enough that the eye candy is simply a byproduct, rather than the entire point, of their existences.
To note, in the original graphic novels Delphine’s character is male, but Johnstad flipped the gender during script development and ta-da! So much more interesting. Can we all just write blank slate characters in the future and then pick their outward appearances and sexualities out of a hat at the last minute?
Mediaversity Grade: B+ 4.44/5
What a relief it is to watch a popcorn flick without having to suffer massively lopsided depictions of men vs women. In Atomic Blonde, gender equality is front and center—and by “equality” I mean men are just as objectified and and moveable as chess pieces as women. Basically, the film is a great fucking time.