Charlize Theron’s newest role as Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde deepens the actress’ oeuvre of tough, action-oriented female leads (from her titular role in Aeon Flux to Mad Max: Fury Road’s Furiosa).
It’s 1989 and top MI6 spy Lorraine is sent to Berlin the night the Berlin Wall falls to defeat a ring of criminals and recover a list of double agents. The trailer alone sees the suave agent kicking ass in neon-lit clubs and swinging from buildings with electric cords.
Before she perfected high kicks and car chases, Theron conquered the serious drama. In 2003, she won an Oscar for portraying lesbian serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, followed three years later by an Oscar nomination for her role in the acclaimed but not widely seen feminist biopic North Country. That same year, she sought refuge from high-brow cinema in Aeon Flux, her first, so-bad-it’s-good experiment with full-action fare.
While the next five years proved relatively quiet for Theron, when 2011 hit she came back with a vengeance, playing the depressed and destructive ex-prom queen Mavis Gary in Diablo Cody’s Young Adult. It was a role that proved how appealing Theron could be to gay viewers: Her presence was loud and dramatic and seamlessly veered between anger and desperation, transforming her into a punished underdog we couldn’t help but cheer on.
2012 saw Theron’s first full-camp endeavor: Her scene-chewing performance as Queen Ravenna in Snow White and the Huntsman, a cruel and avant-garde affair complete with capes and fits of rage. Then came her take-no-prisoners role in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, her most serious action role to date and one that proved to be an anti-patriarchal moment of supreme femme power. As recently as this year she dealt a deadpan, dreadlocks-packed performance in Fate of the Furious.
But with this week’s Atomic Blonde underway, we sense an impending queer explosion for Theron, and it’s not just because of her recently disclosed dips in the lady pond. Here are seven reasons why:
This will be Theron’s biggest queer moment since Monster. She depends on no singular man or woman to help her defeat the baddies in serious style. Theron is one of the few actresses today who can lead a major commercial movie as a lethal bisexual.
Like with Scarlett Johansson’s recent entries in this hyper-stylized canon of female hunters (Ghost in the Shell, Lucy, Under the Skin), every piece of Atomic Blonde is marvelous to look at, listen to, and absorb. The art direction and cinematography drown us in a sensual haze of club lights and ’80s dance pop.
Charlize Is the Producer
This guarantees more control over how her female hero moves behaves. In meetings, we like to imagine she slapped the wrists of male producers who tried to get their way with: “She needs a male love interest,” “More vulnerable,” “More objectified”—like how she looked in 1996’s thriller 2 Days In The Valley.
The Filmmakers Love Heaving, Oiled Man-Muscles
A lot of the high-up crew in the movie were on the stunt team for 300, and that provided more homoerotic material than anything in 2007. It’s good to know those who made this movie have a healthy background in hot male objectification.
Subversion of the Genre
“[We tried] to kind of take that spy thriller we’ve seen a million times and [turn] it on its head,” Theron told a reporter from Cinema magazine on the red carpet. Amen!
The Casting of James McAvoy
McAvoy is a particular kind of sensitive actor popping up in action movies these days, often playing intellectual over brutish. Theron is not paired with a Hugh Jackman-esque rippling, hairy, furious Wolverine here. Her damsel in distress is a worrisome male librarian-type known for playing Professor X.
Her Damn Hot Look
Draggy bleached wig! Dark Armani trench! Tomas Maier peacoat! Saint Laurent studded chain leather boots! Atomic Blonde is The Devil Wears Prada with Blade Runner lesbian-sex-replicants. Bless Yamay Blanco, the film’s wardrobe designer.
Atomic Blonde sucker-punches into theaters on Friday, July 28. In anticipation, create your own “I Am Atomic” meme—for every use of the meme-generator Universal Pictures will donate $1 to the It Gets Better Project.