Charlize Theron’s latest film, the action-packed, insanely fun-and-also-brutal-looking spy flick Atomic Blonde, is set to come out this Friday. In it, Theron plays an MI6 spy sent on a mission to Berlin just before the fall of the Berlin Wall to investigate the murder of a fellow agent. While there certainly plenty of male gaze-y moments from the trailer, it ultimately looks like a rare example of an unadulterated, unapologetically female-centered action movie.
In an interview with Time, Theron discussed some of the key differences in action films starring men versus women, as well as the added responsibility foisted upon women who dare to break the mold.
There have been other examples of successful female-led action movies like Salt (which was originally written for a male lead), Lucy, and of course Kill Bill, but they are much rarer than those with male leads. Theron talked about the crutch of emotionally distressing backstories so often given to female characters to serve as both character development and a justification for violence. (It does seem from the Atomic Blonde trailer that the agent whose death Theron’s character investigates may have been a former lover, but who knows.) From Time:
“Writers are always giving women dead husbands or kids to make you emotionally invest. Men go on a fun journey. Women get a long backstory so you’re already forgiving them for what they’re about to do.”
She also went on to talk about the immense pressure that female-led action movies face:
Still, her first major foray into the action genre, 2005’s Aeon Flux, was a flop. Hollywood took that film’s failure—along with Catwoman and Elektra, which also bombed around the same time—as a sign women couldn’t headline a profitable action flick. “We get screwed because one movie doesn’t work,” says Theron, “I experienced that with Aeon Flux.” She admits the film was flawed, but then, “It was like, ‘Your chance is up.’”
Of course, Aeon Flux was a terrible movie aside from the action part, but Theron is right. Just look how high the stakes for Wonder Woman, with its female protagonist and female director, were when it came out. While Wonder Woman definitely exceeded those expectations, it’s ridiculous that they were there to begin with. Hopefully, Atomic Blonde will pick up where Wonder Woman left off and leave all of this nonsense in the dust.