If you’ve seen Atomic Blonde (and if you haven’t, major spoilers ahead), you know that it’s a wickedly fun and stunning action movie, staking its claim amongst the ranks of modern marvels such as the Bourne and John Wick series. Set to a bangin’ 80s soundtrack, Charlize Theron’s Lorraine kicks colossal amounts of ass, and watching her mow down swarms of men who try to get in her way is a pure delight and a breath of fresh air for fans of the male-dominated shoot-’em-up genre. Not only that, but the film’s main character is unmistakably bisexual—which is no minor detail for any genre.
It’s the type of movie I wanted to see again immediately after leaving the theater.
Unfortunately, for everything this film gets right, there is one glaring misstep that left a bad taste in my mouth, especially because of how groundbreaking (and easy!) the opposite outcome would have been.
Lorraine’s lady love interest, Sofia Boutella’s Delphine—an intriguing but inexperienced French agent—steals every scene she’s in and has immediate chemistry with Lorraine. In Bond Girl fashion, she quickly finds her way into Lorraine’s bed where we get a genuine gay sex scene followed later by some tender moments between the two women. Hooray! But then, also in Bond Girl fashion, Delphine is later strangled to death on her bed in her underwear, just seconds before Lorraine barges into the room. Ugh.
It’s a cliche, of course—how many Bond Girls have died in horrifying ways after spending a few nights with James (not to mention countless other action movies where the attractive lady of the hour ends up a corpse by Act III)? Watching that scene, though, I actually thought Lorraine might rescue (or revive) Delphine right up until she didn’t. I so wanted this movie rise above the misogynistic conventions of the genre, and since the writers had already given us an unapologetic woman/woman relationship, I was optimistic. This film could have blazed the fucking trail where other good action movies, including Bourne and Wick, stuck to the beaten path in regard to fridging women characters—that is, killing them off to contribute to the (usually male) hero’s righteous manpain. Alas, I was too optimistic. And as much as I enjoyed Atomic Blonde as a whole and as thrilled as I was to see a bisexual woman as a superbly cool action hero, the ultimate decision to give Delphine a horrific death is both disappointing and unfortunately predictable.
In this case, though, what plays out as a genre-standard Bond Girl death manages to pack a double-punch for harmful cliches. Delphine’s fate also places her on the long and growing list of “dead lesbians,” a trope also known as “Bury Your Gays” that refers to the far-too-common pattern of LGBT characters being more expendable in film and TV than their hetero counterparts. Here’s where Atomic Blonde really could have stood apart, twice over, if only the writers had defied convention. Happy endings are fairly rare in the spy/action genre, of course, but loads of movies exist where straight people/couples get a happy ending—whereas, for LGBT characters, happy (or even just “not depressing”) conclusions are rare across all genres. Because this larger context exists, Delphine’s death stings.
And while it’s disheartening to see Atomic Blonde fall into these cliched writing traps, what’s extra frustrating is how fucking extraordinary this film could have been if only it had subverted the trope. It wouldn’t even have been difficult, since the scene unfolds as though Lorraine has a genuine chance to save her. The screenwriters missed an enormous opportunity, here, to rise above other action films by simply not killing the lesbian woman of color character.
Real talk: If Lorriane had busted down that door a few seconds earlier and saved Delphine, and the two had ended up on a beach at the end (they both need a vacation, FFS), this was going to be my new favorite action movie—and I’m sure I’m not alone. A bisexual woman protagonist is a rare treat, but a happy ending for Delphine would have been a fucking TRIUMPH, particularly in a genre with such a high mortality rate for lady love interests.
What’s more, letting Delphine live would change literally nothing else in the plot. Nothing. James McAvoy’s David could flee the scene thinking he murdered her only for Lorraine to resuscitate her moments later (related beef: Why doesn’t CPR exist in action movies? She was strangled seconds ago!). Lorraine could then proceed with tracking and killing David in exactly the same way, letting him and everyone else believe Delphine was dead.
In fact . . . what if she did that? We do know that Lorraine wasn’t always a reliable narrator, so is it possible that she left out one big detail and actually rescued Delphine (and, by doing so, gave her a way out of the spy life)? That would certainly make a nice reveal in a sequel (hopefully with a rad 90s soundtrack). And more Sofia Boutella could only be a good thing. Just sayin’.
Barring that, though, if Atomic Blonde does get a sequel (or, fingers crossed, a full trilogy), the next film has a golden opportunity to soar where the first film stumbled. Give Lorraine a girlfriend, and give them their goddamn happy ending, alright?