The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Michael O’Sullivan’s review of “Atomic Blonde,” click here.
Holy crap, “Atomic Blonde.”
So Charlize Theron plays a British spy whose name I can’t even remember, but that’s OK because it’s not her name that’s important. She goes into Berlin just before the fall of the Wall and meets up with a guy (James McAvoy) whose name also isn’t important. She’s out to solve the mystery of a murdered agent — whom she was more emotionally involved with then she lets on, because of course she was — and recover a list of double agents. She does this mainly by being awesome, in the sense of being both the smartest person in the room and the one most likely to find new and surprising ways to kill someone.
Theron has a cool, icy confidence; the whole movie throbs with the pulse of late-’80s Berlin; the fight scenes are as creative as they come. (Director David Leitch shows the skills he picked up as a longtime stunt performer and coordinator. And he’s helming “Deadpool 2,” so GET READY FOR THAT ONE.) In short, “Atomic Blonde” is like a female James Bond movie.
Except hold off on that.
2016’s “Ghostbusters” was repeatedly described as “the female ‘Ghostbusters.’ ” The upcoming “Ocean’s Eight” is often described as “the all-female ‘Ocean’s Eight.’ ” On the small screen, we now have our first female Doctor on “Doctor Who.” Obviously, feminine labels are accurate descriptors here, but they’re also reductive. We no longer describe doctors who are women as “lady doctors,” but there has been and will be discussion of our lady Doctor. When something is set apart and labeled “female,” it reinforces the thinking that “male” is the default and “female” the deviation. 2016’s “Ghostbusters” is almost never referred to as a straight reboot (even though it is one) — but it would have been had the movie featured a cast of all men or the acceptable Hollywood ratio of three men to one woman. Making all of the Ghostbusters women somehow put the film in another category.
Calling something the “female version of [X]” implies that it’s something that’s best described by its relationship to the masculine. This is problematic: I imagine many women would object to being described as “the female version of a man.” (If you’re a man who can’t imagine that, I invite you to internally describe yourself as “the male version of a woman” and see if that doesn’t bug you just a tiny bit.) It assumes that female-led movies don’t stand on their own; they’re being propped up by their predecessors or the male-led movies they most closely resemble.
That isn’t to say that “Atomic Blonde” doesn’t faithfully celebrate some Bondian qualities. Even the story structure — chase-exposition-chase-fight-alcohol-chase-fight-sex that’s probably not a good idea-chase-fight-alcohol-chase-fight-roll credits — is something 007 would have no problem handling. But “Atomic Blonde” isn’t a spinoff, and it’s not a reboot, and it shouldn’t be described as a female anything, because that implies it’s a version of a male something else. When it comes to “Atomic Blonde,” just call it what it is: absolutely kickass.
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