Warning: SPOILERS for Atomic Blonde!
A British secret agent assigned to a dangerous mission, facing off against a cadre of international assassins in an exotic European backdrop to retrieve top secret intel in the name of Queen and country. What sounds like the latest (or, frankly, any) James Bond adventure also describes Atomic Blonde, the new action yarn starring Charlize Theron and directed by David Leitch (John Wick). Theron's titular heroine, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, has immediately drawn comparisons to 007, cinema's premiere super spy currently embodied by Daniel Craig. The easy shorthand to describe Theron and her film is she plays "a female James Bond." However, this lazy description actually does Theron and what she accomplishes in Atomic Blonde a grave disservice. Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde is so much more than just a gender-reversed clone of 007.
It's true that the enduring popularity of the James Bond franchise has defined how spies are portrayed and how they behave in movies. James Bond was not the first spy in cinema, but he and the tropes the Bond franchise created are the standard nearly every spy movie homages or at the very least addresses in one form or another. Atomic Blonde certainly pays lip service to classic Bond concepts: Set in November 1989, towards the end of the Cold War with the Berlin Wall about to fall, agent Lorraine Broughton is called to MI6 where she receives her orders not just from her supervisor Eric Gray (Toby Jones) but from MI6's Chief C (James Faulkner) - similar to how Bond's commander is known only as M. Broughton is always impeccably attired; stays in a swanky West Berlin hotel; engages in a hot and heavy tryst with Atomic Blonde's version of a Bond Girl, the naive French agent Delpine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), and battles numerous spies and traitors from multiple nations in order to locate a MacGuffin - a List of MI6 deep cover agents on both sides of the Berlin Wall, including the identity of the mysterious double agent Satchel.
While Atomic Blonde feels fantastical, it's squarely set in what's recognizably 20th century history. The James Bond franchise from Sean Connery to Pierce Brosnan was set in our world as well, using our history and changing geopolitical climate as the springboard for Bond's adventures. Bond was a product of the Cold War (later a "relic of the Cold War," as Judi Dench's M once admonished Brosnan's 007) whose heroics foiled global terrorist organizations and garnered key victories in the conflict between East and West. Since the 2006 reboot of the franchise, Daniel Craig's Bond became disconnected from both 007's history and our own. Craig's 007 never fought in the Cold War and his adventures exist in their own alternate universe; the Bond franchise now is self-contained and forward-looking, making fleeting mention of MI6's role in world history. Bond has become a universe unto itself. Not so with Atomic Blonde.
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