I remember that first time I saw the iconic shot of James Bond slowly traipsing across the screen with a circle moving right across the screen until it gets on James Bond. And then James bond slowly moves from right to left across the screen and stops before he turns to face what you now recognize as a gun barrel. He quickly unleashes his gun and you see the red drip down over the screen in recognition of being shot. With one simple shot, Broccoli and company hooked me. Of course, when I began watching Timothy Dalton was James Bond. He was in the second of his two mostly nondescript turns at the helm of the proud franchise. But for me, it lit a fire as far as my interest in the MI:6 hero from the United Kingdom.
I immediately went home and had to watch all of the James Bond movies I could get my hands on. It just so happened that TNT was doing a whole series of James Bond films on cable. I watched every moment I could and then recorded what I couldn’t watch overnight so that I could watch it later. It began with Sean Connery issue those iconic words: Bond, James Bond. I got to witness Jack Lord be the first person to play the CIA agent Felix Lighter. Q came in to give Bond the tools he needed. And then there was Ursula Andress in the iconic bathing suit. What could be better than guns, girls, and gadgets?
Of course, there would be many more Bonds after Dr. No. From there, we would have a brief foray in Lazenby, back to Connery, Moore, the two pic stint of Dalton, Mr. Brosnan, and finally the rough and tumble Daniel Craig. (And once we get past this next James Bond picture, we will move on to another Bond.) With all the success, the Bond series spawned all kinds of imitations. From a comedic turn with Austin Powers to an American version of the Super Spy with Matt Damon in the Jason Bourne series, we never seem to run out of our craving to be taken on a ride to exotic locations with distant locales and women hanging on each arm.
Upon hearing Craig was stepping down after the next Bond feature I heard about rumors selecting the next James Bond. Some put the forward the notion they wanted to see the next 007 be a woman. I was curious about how this was going to work out. Making Bond a woman seemed a curious choice. And then came the news just recently that they were going to make the next Dr. Who be a woman. All of these thoughts had been running through my mind of late when I saw the trailer for the movie Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron.
The first thing that the marketing made obvious is that they wanted Theron’s character to be a female version of James Bond. There were plenty of gorgeous women, attractive men, lots of fighting and great gadgets to be found by all. And then again, the trailer actually saying Atomic Blonde was a female James Bond might have clued me in as well.
Normally I would be immediately skeptical of someone trying to pull that kind of thing off. As much as I admire their attempt at being the tough woman in a film, I always felt like Kate Beckinsale, in the Underworld movies, and Milla Jovovich, in the Resident Evil series, had roles that felt hollow. I don’t feel like this had to do with their sex unless it was me just expecting more from their roles. I have seen Beckinsale, in particular, portray some roles with magnificent depth in them. With Underworld and Resident Evil, I felt like the female roles were far too one dimensional.
I suppose I might expect too much of female action stars. Maybe being one dimensional is a feature of most action movies and not a bug. After all, action heroes in the past have included such luminaries as Vin Diesel and Jean Claude Van Damme. No one would confuse either of those actors with Johnny Depp even on a good day. And I enjoyed some of their pictures. (After all, who doesn’t like Pitch Black?) Likewise, I liked Underworld. But I wanted more. With a good James Bond ripoff, you need more. Whether one-dimensional characters were a bug or a feature, James Bond was different.
To me, James Bond was so much more. (At least good James Bond demonstrated more. Personally, I think the Roger Moore movies should be stricken from the James Bond canon, however much I might like Christopher Lee as a Bond villain.) I think what elevates Sean Connery and even Daniel Craig, in his better films, is the ability to make the audience feel like there is so much more to the character than him beating up the bad guys and ending up in the beds of beautiful women. With Connery, you always felt like he was hiding something buried, just underneath the surface. And with Craig, the deep seeded emotions exuded from every pore of his being.
It’s that depth that makes the good James Bond movies, great movies. So upon hearing Charlize Theron’s name proferred as a female James Bond I should have winced. But in one of her latest film roles, she proved that she was so much more than a pretty face. Sure, she had done some solid dramatic work. But an action movie is a different animal. And with her role in Mad Max: Fury Road, she exceeded every expectation. She portrayed the quintessential woman with a past. Every pore of her being made you want to find out more about her. Knowing this, if ever a woman could pull off the role of a female Bond, it would be Ms. Theron.
So with a bit of anxiety and curiosity, I went to see the new Atomic Blonde movie. The following is my review.
Atomic Blonde Movie Review
As with any good feature, we are thrown into the middle of things from the start. MI6 agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) is shot and killed by KGB agent Yuri Bakhtin. The audience barely has its footing before the action shifts ten days into the future. Here they introduce us to Lorraine Broughton (Theron), a top-level spy for MI6. British (Toby Jones) and American (John Goodman) Intelligence is either interrogating or debriefing her on the last mission she had. They question her role in her mission to retrieve documents on all covert British Intelligence officials in the Soviet Union.
We flash back to seven days ago when MI6 sent her out to Berlin to retrieve the documents that Yuri Bakhtin came into possession of when he killed James Gasciogne as well as assassinate Satchel, a double agent who is on the list but they are unaware of who this person is. They arrange for her to meet up with the Berlin British operative, David Percival (James McAvoy), who they believe has gone a bit “too native”. The Berlin Wall is on the verge of collapse and he appears to be a bit on edge as well.
Upon arrival in Berlin, Russian Intelligence picks up Broughton and wants to take her back for questioning or execution. She quickly realizes this and escapes from their clutches. She also notices there appears to be a woman following her as well, taking pictures. Percival eventually shows up and apologizes for not arriving sooner. She asks if he knows anything about his follower and where their target is for retrieving the information. He responds to her that she is probably being followed because it’s possible this person finds her attractive and that he does not know the last known whereabouts of Yuri Bakhtin.
Finding Percival to be unhelpful, she decides to go question the Russians in person, going to a known hangout of Russian intelligence officials. After feeling them out, Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), the woman trailing her, propositions her. She then goes to East Berlin, to the apartment of James Gasciogne, who we realize was her former lover. She discovers that Mr. Percival hasn’t been quite forthcoming as not only does she find pictures of he and Gasciogne together, but she is then beset by the East German police. As Percival knew her whereabouts and no one else, she concluded she couldn’t trust him.
She then pursued contact with Delphine, trying to find out her role in everything. Delphine comes clean rather quickly. She turns out to be French Intelligence. Delphine admit she may not be very good at her job. And in a novel twist to the James Bond ethos, Broughton beds her to discover what her knowledge of the situation is. She then tells her that she would be better off going back to Paris. But she stays because her interest in Broughton now appears to be romantic.
Upon getting back to West Berlin and Percival, he comes clean and lets her know there appears to be more problems than getting the list from the Russian. A German watchmaker, codenamed “Spyglass,” memorized the list, and that they can retrieve the information that way. But his giving up the information is contingent on getting him safely away from communist hands and into West Berlin.
**End of Spoiler Alert**
As I will not spoil the rest of the plot, there will obviously be more twists and turns as well as double crosses along the way before Miss Broughton can accomplish her mission. And how successful or unsuccessful she is, you can judge for yourself. With everyone hiding something, sometimes it’s difficult to dig through the weeds and determine who is supporting whom. As you learn in every quintessential spy movie, trust no one.
As for the film itself, there are many different things going for it. Obviously, the novel concept of the female spy doing whatever she can do to accomplish her mission is a refreshing change to the standard spy fare. I definitely give credit to both Theron and the filmmakers for not shying away from her pursuing a relationship with a woman in order to accomplish her mission. In a do anything to get your mission accomplished world, fear of showing Theron hitting on another woman wouldn’t ring true, especially if a woman carried the information she needed.
In addition, the action sequences were kinetic. With the typical James Bond movie, they gave Bond gadgets to magically fit the situation, just like the tools in the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Here, they have Theron’s character use whatever was at her disposal to get through a situation. Whether it be rope, pans, pictures, ice picks or anything else, Broughton improvises beautifully. And nothing goes so beyond the realm of plausibility to seem completely unrealistic. Furthermore, the filmmakers chose some novel escapes like using umbrellas to escape detection by the Russians. Broughton accomplishes her goals with flair and panache.
If I were to take on what I found disappointing in the film, I would say that they poorly used James McAvoy in the piece. He often seems like he is out of place in the film. Admittedly, that is part of his character, but they don’t give him enough meat in the character to make what he does shocking or particularly deceptive. I get sad when I feel like they poorly use a gifted actor, and I feel like they did here.
And finally, I felt like all we were seeing of Theron’s character was surface. Maybe that was a deliberate choice to help with some of the surprises they have along the way. But when you have a gifted actress who can bring depth to a character, drawing you in further, it’s sad that you don’t quite use that talent up to its potential. Maybe the screenwriters were so focused on the twists and turns of the plot they failed to recognize the talented actress they had who could convey meaning above and beyond any particular action sequence. If they do end up making a sequel, I hope they use more of Theron’s talents.
Overall Grade: 2 1/2 out of 4 stars
Continue The Conversation –
I have to say that I really did like Atomic Blonde. There is nothing wrong with a little escapism at times. The movie wildly succeeded at that. I just think that sometimes you realize that a piece can be so much more than what the finished product was that you feel like you were robbed of something. Maybe that’s just me.
So what are some of your favorite spy movies? If you liked James Bond pictures, do you have a favorite? Which actor gave the best performance as Bond? Do you think making 007 a woman would be a good idea, or is it better to make other spy movies with women to give them their own iconic characters? And for those Dr. Who fans out there, what are your thoughts about the next Dr. Who?
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Until next time, this is me signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life
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