Atomic Blonde: Not Enough Neon
Wonder Woman spoiled me. For two hours and twenty-one glorious minutes, I got to enjoy an action movie that centered on a woman who kicked ass. I didn't have to endure any creepy shots of Wonder Woman's legs or butt or breasts. I just got to see a woman treated like a regular human being and since I've seen it three times in theatres, I have forgotten what it's like to watch a female-led action movie directed by a man. Lemme tell y'all, I did not miss it. I recently saw Atomic Blonde and I had a sneaking suspicion that Charlize Theron would be oversexualized. Turns out I'm a psychic because this movie was a mess.
There's a weird dichotomy that comes with being a lesbian because as a lesbian, I do find women attractive. You're welcome for that definition. So as someone that finds women attractive, yeah, I do like seeing attractive women in movies, but I hate the way that women are filmed. It's the same thing as straight ladies wanting to see shirtless dudes, but there's a difference in how these types of scenes are shot. And the way that women are portrayed in front of the camera should make you feel creepy. Like we're looking at her without her knowing in a leering, gross way.
When you have a shirtless dude, the camera never lingers on his body. The first scene that comes to my mind is that part in Burlesque where Cam Gigandet keeps coming back into the living room making excuses to flirt with Christina Aguilera and shedding a piece of clothes each time he reappears. Why does Burlesque come to my mind first? Guys, I don't know what to tell you, but like sometimes I watch Burlesque. I don't even particularly like it, but once or twice a year, I watch it. Same with the new Footloose and Rock of Ages. I don't particularly like them, but I just feel the need to watch it. We're all flawed, multi-faceted human beings.
Anyway. The camera in a scene like that never lingers on a dude's body. Yes, Cam Gigandet is naked except for a box of cookies by the end of the scene, but the camera never gets close on his body. It never feels voyeristic. Or think about the scene in the first Captain America movie after the experiment that turns meek Steve into ripped Captain America. The contraption opens and there he is. All buff and ready to save America by suckerpunching Hitler. If Steve Rodgers was a woman, you can bet that we'd get a close-up of every single one of her new muscles, but we didn't. We just got a far away shot of what he looks like now. And Steve got to be wearing pants. I am positive that this hypothetical female version of Steve Rodgers would not get to be wearing pants.
Why am I so certain of this? TAKE A LOOK AT ANY MOVIE THAT'S EVER BEEN MADE.
I think the easiest example that comes to mind is Jessica Simpson in Dukes of Hazard. You get the slow motion pan over ever single inch of her body. And it's creepy! It's just plain creepy. Like why is that attractive? You can film a woman in revealing clothes without making it feel creepy. Exhibit A: Wonder Woman. Are you honestly telling me that if a dude directed Wonder Woman it'd be shot the same way? Go read Joss Whedon's mess of a script and try to tell me otherwise. There one hundred percent would've been lingering shots on her legs and there would've been a scene where she'd be changing and Steve Trevor would try not to look. Trust me. I've seen that movie eight million times already.
Back to the movie tonight.
I like to think of myself as someone who doesn't ask for too much, but HONESTLY, let me just talk to the person in charge of the music for Atomic Blonde. How the shit are you going to do a movie called Atomic Blonde, set in the 1980s, and not set a fight scene to Blondie's Atomic?! I wasn't even born in the 80s and I know that should've been a given. How are you going to drop the ball that badly?
Also, how many times did I really need to see a naked Charlize Theron climb out of an ice bath? Like, I get it. Homegirl has been through a lot. Let her soak her tired muscles. But like, put her in a robe. I don't know. I just want someone to justify those scenes to me when we had James McAvoy wake up naked from having a three-way, but he gets to cover himself up with a blanket while the ladies are completely naked on the bed. Nudity in films, in my opinion, is fine if it's justified and equal. Somebody explain to me why there were about four naked women shown and not one dude. It's almost like there wasn't a good reason for it except for nudity for the sake of nudity. Tits out for cinema, amiright?
Speaking of, why did we have to endure the camera slowly panning up Charlize Theron's nearly naked body to understand the fact that she's wearing a wire. I certainly didn't need it to happen twice. She's a spy and a pretty great spy at that. Odds are pretty good I'd assume she was wearing a wire without those gratuitous shots of her taping a wire to herself.
AND ANOTHER THING; why the hell did the French spy have to be in lingerie when she was getting killed? Um, homegirl was on her way to flee Berlin in November and you're honestly telling me that she's gonna do that in lingerie?! Last time we saw her, she was wearing a bunch of clothes and then she took them off for some reason to pack? Like what was the point of that other than to have a feeble excuse for her being half-naked?
Remember how I said that the hypothetical female Steve Rodgers probably wouldn't get to be wearing pants in her version of that experiment scene? Well, look how right I am. If a French spy packing up her life to escape Berlin into the cold as hell November night is wearing lingerie, then you better believe hypothetical female Steve Rodgers is in a bra and some ridiculous, lacy underwear.
As the heroic, lesbian martyr that I am, I'll also throw my two cents in about the LGBT representation in this movie. Representation may be a strong word. It's basically just a sex scene for the sake of seein' two ladies naked and bangin'. It was over the top, utterly ridiculous, and completely shot in the male gaze. It made me want to scream. I don't think this even counted as representation because then the whole thing was played for laughs. Charlize Theron's recounting the story of what happened in Berlin to some officers and it cut from the wildly over the top sex scene to the officer saying, with a straight face, "So you made contact with the French operative?" Lemme tell y'all, that got a big laugh in my movie theatre. But then Charlize Theron was pretty torn up when the French spy died, so maybe their heart was in the right place, but they just have no idea how to shoot a gay sex scene in a non-creepy way.
I will say that some of the shots were insanely gorgeous and I now want to be constantly bathed in a neon glow. Also, the fight choreography was outstanding and all the camera work that went into making sure you don't miss any of the action made some of the fight sequences really stand out. Like the last one in the staircase. That one was insane and I really liked that Charlize Theron's character had no qualms about kicking her assailants in the balls. That's my biggest pet peeve in action movies. Like just kick the dude in the balls, it's gonna help you get the upper hand.
My issue lies with the music choices. The trailer is a work of art. They come out guns blazing. Everything edited to perfectly echo the beat and pace of the songs. Good song choices, too. When it came to the actual movie, though, none of that attention to detail is there. They picked boring songs. The 80s is the greatest decade for music and that's the best they could come up with?? I was sitting there thinking, huh, maybe I should go see Baby Driver because at least they seem to know what they're doing even if it didn't show in the trailer. (Guys, don't worry. I'm still not gonna pay to see Baby Driver. I just bought a vintage Madonna shirt online and I'm on a budget. You gotta pick the things you really want and ya girl really wanted a vintage Madonna tour shirt, not to watch the kid from The Fault in Our Stars pout in a car for two hours.)
Also, the amount of double crossing, double agents was straight out of a telenovela. There are only so many times a movie can be like, "Got ya!" before it loses its' sense of mystery and any hope of making sense. In all honesty, I'm not sure I even understand what happened at the end of the movie. Like who is the double crossing Satchel spy that everybody wants?? Was it James McAvoy? I'm pretty sure it was him, but I would not bet anything I cared about on that.
I'm also not sure the makers of the movie knew what was up either. There were all these odd moments of levity or an attempt at humor, but I'm not sure what they were going for. It's like they couldn't make up their mind on the type of movie they were going for. Did they want to lean into a fun, neon action movie? Or did they want it to be a serious film that's ~important~ social commentary? It's a shame, too. I was hoping this was going to be the fun, slightly campy, neon, technicolor 80s spiritual sister to Mad Max: Fury Road, but, y'all, that was not this movie.