By P. Kristen Enos
Based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, the movie is an action and violence-filled, spy thriller based in 1989 Berlin at the time just before the wall is coming down. Charlize Theron portrays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 level UK spy sent to retrieve a secret list of spies taken from a recently assassinated UK spy.
I have very little interest in spy thrillers as a genre. And I fully admit I wouldn’t have watched it at full movie price if Theron hadn’t been the primary character WITH promises of queer women content.
So with that being confessed, if the above is your thing, you’ll like the film. I thought it was very well executed with flashy fight choreography resulting in lots of pain and gore. And I paid enough attention to the story that there were only a handful of moments where I thought “did I understand what happened correctly?” without being bothered if I didn’t.
However, it didn’t really emotionally connect with me, and probably because I was a bit guarded at how gratuitously violent it was. I was more emotionally distracted by the time period’s music soundtrack being the music of my youth and a lot of the songs making think “I haven’t heard that in a long time!” Enough that I thought the one technical miss is that they should have used the German language version of “Der Kommissar.” (Trust me, if this was your music too, you would get the point.)
I don’t see myself watching it again and I would be very selective to whom I would recommend it to.
Queer Review (With Spoilers)
I fully admit I was nervous walking into the movie. The last time I went blindly into a film with an apparently strong female lead with promised queer tendencies was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I ended up feeling like I was subjected to a horribly sexist/male fantasy film that left a bad taste in my mouth that lingers to this day.
So in Atomic Blonde, Theron’s character Lorraine is quickly established as having been romantically involved with the assassinated UK agent but she keeps this a secret from everyone. This is an interesting point that in the graphic novel (which I skimmed through because I’m somewhat of a completest) no such romantic relationship existed.
I felt myself instantly cringe when in the opening debriefing scene Lorraine calls someone a “cocksucker” as a very pointed insult that another (male) character thought was funny. it caused me to I remain a little judgmental and edgy throughout the viewing of the film. Not a good way to start a queer content evaluation of the film. It should also be noted that this moment wasn’t in the graphic novel.
But in her meeting all of the shady characters in Berlin, Lorraine quickly notices an attractive brunette woman on a motorcycle with a camera following her around. As to be expected, the two eventually encounter each other, accusations of potential betrayal go back and forth. The brunette, named Delphine (and played by Sofia Boutella), turns out to be a rookie French spy, who’s sharing everyone’s fear of The List.
Now that Delphine has shown seemingly honest vulnerability, the women immediately progress into sexy times. I do want to say that they show enough to confirm very much that they had sex but it’s such a brief and shallow portrayal compared to the SEVERAL MINUTES of long and drawn out fight scenes that made me wish I had fast forward capabilities in the movie theater. Obviously, I wish the screen time ratio would have been a little more balanced, or at least another minute of two switched.
However, to the credit of the film, the women do have sex more than once and have some genuinely emotional lines of dialogue. And Lorraine seems to have honestly cared for Delphine by the end of the film.
This bisexual portrayal is very interesting considering that in the graphic novel, Delphine’s character was a man named Pierre. And someone that Lorraine also had sexy times with but the emotional vulnerability didn’t seem to be there. (Like I said, I skimmed the novel rather than do a thorough read.)
Did I think the bisexual angel was an improvement of the film over the graphic novel? Well, it was the only reason why someone like me would watch the film, so yeah.
Do I think it was a good bisexual portrayal? I would say so. However, you have to keep in mind that the film isn’t a romance, so any vulnerable interaction between characters, no matter how brief, would stick out like a sore thumb. Lorraine and Delphine’s scenes together was a nice change of pace to the violent angst in the rest of the film. But I don’t think it’s strong enough to be added to any list of fantastic queer films. And the “cocksucker” thing just doesn’t help.
If you want to read more about the bisexual change from graphic novel to film, read the article The Hollywood Reporter: Why ‘Atomic Blonde’ Sex Scenes Almost Didn’t Happen. (I admit I didn’t read it before writing this review.)