The differences between Lorraine Broughton and her forebearer James Bond - or Matt Damon's Jason Bourne, for that matter - are stark and innovative. Atomic Blonde sets itself squarely in the midst of one of the most pivotal moments of the 20th century, the collapse of the Iron Curtain. As Broughton risks life and limb trying to recover the List, the Berlin Wall is literally being smashed all around her. Though it's set decades later, the Jason Bourne films, especially The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum directed by Paul Greengrass, feel more kindred to Atomic Blonde both in the griminess of its setting (as opposed to the glamor of Bond's) and in how immediate, visceral, and bloody the action is. (Craig's 007 has taken many cues from Bourne as well by ramping up the violence Bond both inflicts and has inflicted upon him).
Broughton's fight scenes come at an evident cost; when we first glimpse her, she's trying to soothe her bloody, bruised and scarred body in an ice bath. She is increasingly wounded throughout the film but grits her teeth and bears it. Broughton may be as invincible as Bond or Bourne, but she doesn't feel like or come off as a bulletproof white knight. She even smokes; a habit Bond has long since abandoned. Meanwhile, director Leitch brings the whirlwind ferocity he displayed in John Wick to Atomic Blonde, creating fight sequences of harrowing brutality and a ballet of cars and bodies hurtling across space as Broughton makes her escapes. The bruises and black eye Broughton brandishes throughout the film never let us forget how dangerous her life is.
Bond is immune to popular trends (Connery voiced his disdain for The Beatles in Goldfinger) and the only place major pop music acts can be found in a Bond movie is during the opening credits. Any hint of pop culture is completely absent from Jason Bourne's existence, with the lone saving grace of a new remix of Moby's "Extreme Ways" over each new movie's end credits. Atomic Blonde blasts 1980s pop hits from New Order, Nena, and David Bowie at the audience; the songs aren't just on the soundtrack but the characters also listen to them on their Walkmans. Similar to Edgar Wright's Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde makes the music part of the text, helping to hurtle the audience along from moment to moment.
Broughton herself, however, is Atomic Blonde's greatest innovation and contribution to the cinematic spy genre. She isn't the first female super spy in movies - fellow Oscar winners like Halle Berry as Jinx in the James Bond film Die Another Day and Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt in Salt have portrayed female secret agents - but Theron now has the best chance to launch a major spy franchise with a female lead. (Neither rumored Jinx spin-off nor a sequel to Salt ever materialized). While she seems to be a cipher and emits a steely cool and unflappable sexy exterior, we later learn that Broughton keeps her cards close to her chest by necessity - she's actually an American triple agent working against both the Russians and the British (which helps explain the questionable authenticity of her British accent). There were hidden layers to Broughton she had to keep buried which a sequel will hopefully give Theron a chance to bring to light.
In an era of movies where audiences are subjected to incessant sequels, reboots, re-imaginings, and recastings of established movie icons, it's more important than ever for filmmakers to create and cultivate new characters who can grow to become the next movie icons. Theron's titular Atomic Blonde is a successful leap forward as a major new action heroine and focal point of a potential franchise. Theron threw herself body and soul into the role, as she's said to have performed the majority of her own stunts. The results of her dedication are up there on the screen for audiences to behold; Theron is unforgettably bad ass and instantly iconic as Lorraine Broughton. Atomic Blonde isn't a perfect film - its serpentine plot of spy games is too convoluted, which may leave audiences as befuddled as they are energized - but as an action film it's of the highest caliber. By the time Atomic Blonde concludes, Charlize Theron has left us shaken and stirred - and wanting more of Lorraine Broughton.