See It Instead: Atomic Blonde.
With Atomic Blond out this week, we look at films featuring strong female leads kicking butt.
Director David Leitch’s new spy action flick, Atomic Blonde, features Charlize Theron as a bad-ass MI6 agent who is sent to Berlin to tear down the wall with her bare hands. Well…not really, but according to the trailers we’ve seen, the film is pretty chock-a-block with Theron mangling and murdering enemy spies in a stylish manner. We decided there’s not enough lady butt kicking in most viewers’ diet, so we put together a little three course meal of femme fatales, with a Charlize Theron specific film as dessert.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
Agent Broughton (Theron) is sent into Berlin alone in order to steal back a dossier of undercover spy identities. With the Cold War raging, she has very few assets she can trust. The lure of such a pivotal document draws agents from every faction to Berlin, and everyone wants to kill Broughton and take the dossier. Fortunately, Broughton also has a personal stake in finding the people who stole the file, and is willing to destroy anyone who gets in her way.
The Serious Pick: La Femme Nikita (1990)
Nikita is a junky and street punk who gets involved with a pharmacy robbery that goes south. All of her gang is killed and she winds up killing a police officer while high as a kite. Sentenced to life in prison, her death by suicide is faked and Nikita wakes up in a clandestine center aptly called La Centre. Her handler informs her that she is to be groomed as a covert assassin…unless she wants to wind up actually dead. Trained in espionage, she is given a fictitious life where she begins to actually find love. Unfortunately, she is activated on her honeymoon and sent on a suicidal assassination mission.
Written and directed by Luc Besson (you know, the guy who totally cocked-up Valerian and the City of a Thousand Plot Holes?) La Femme Nikita is a lean and mean piece of cinema. Anne Perillaud plays Nikita like a nihilistic spectre, emotionally stunted and filled with rage. She’s convincing as the drug addled teen criminal who becomes an killer with ice in her veins, but she also sells Nikita as a damaged flower that eventually blooms when presented respect and attention. It helps that she’s surrounded by talent: Tcheky Karyo plays her strict handler, and Jean Reno cameos as a “cleaner” AKA the guy they send in to fix mistakes caused by agents who fuck up.
The action in the film is solid and tense, and the whole film exudes a gritty style without coming off as pretentious. Besson has a tightly paced film that seems poised to explode into violence even when it is showing a sombre or tender moment. Before his films became dominated by style over substance, Besson was making smart action films like Nikita and The Professional that deserve your attention.
The Light-Hearted Pick: The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Samantha (Geena Davis) is an average school teacher and housewife with a dark past. She was found unconcious on a beach eight years prior to current events, pregnant and with no memory of her former life. Her life is turned upside-down when she gets a concussion in an accident and begins to recall her past: she was some sort of sleeper agent on a covert mission. With the help of a private investigator (Samuel L. Jackson) she tries to track down her old handler and her last target.
While the plot can get a bit bonkers (with so many twists and betrayals, it could easily have made it onto our Best Conspiracy Theory Movies list!) the film succeeds due the performances of Davis and Jackson. Geena Davis has a peculiar charm, even in bad movies like Cutthroat Island, and she leverages her impish smile while performing bad-ass feats. Like in Nikita, she inhabits both her pre- and post-revelation personalities. Samuel L. Jackson does what he does best here, playing a character who is big on bravado but short on ability. He is a perfect counter-point to Davis’ character.
The Long Kiss Goodnight may not be as smart as Nikita, but it is nearly as breathless. It has a nice set-up and continual escalation of the plot, punctuated with cool action and plentiful chase sequences. Come for the charming performances and stay for the explosions.
The Unconventional Pick: Red Sonja (1985)
Sonja is a proud warrior who has been training her whole life to get vengeance on the evil Queen Gedren, who destroyed her family and left Sonja for dead as a young woman. She is approached by Lord Kalidor with news from Sonja’s sister Varna, who was mortally wounded when Gedren attacked her temple. The Queen has stolen a talisman of unspeakable power, so Sonja, Kalidor and a small band of other fighters with a grudge against the queen set out to destroy her and the talisman.
A Sword and Sorcery classic, Red Sonja was inspired by the Conan The Barbarian comics and set in the same world. Even though Arnold Schwarzenegger is in both and they share a common fictional universe, he is not playing Conan in the film, but instead a warrior king named Kalidor. He’s actually more charming in this flick and naturally retains his sword swinging skills. He is outdone by Brigitte Nielsen, though, who plays Sonja. Her towering physique and Nordic accent recall Arnie’s Conan, but she has more nuance and dare I say more action sequences.
As another link to Conan is Sandahl Bergman, who played Conan’s love interest in the first movie and who plays the evil queen with gusto and malevolence. I love James Earl Jones, but his evil lord is not given as much time or attention in Conan as Berman gets in Red Sonja, and it makes for a more compelling hack and slash romp.
The Obvious Pick: Mad Max: Fury Road.
I would be remiss in a list of lethal ladies not to pick one of Theron’s biggest action roles. I’ve covered how impressed I was with Mad Max: Fury Road in detail in our review, so suffice it to say I think Theron stood out in that great film. Her character was easily the most compelling, especially paired off against a rather vanishing performance from Tom Hardy. I don’t know how much of the hyperbolic talk of sequels was just gushing fans high off a thrilling film, but if they wanted to give Furiosa more screen time, I would definitely be pleased to ride shotgun on that crazy caravan.