Anatomy of a Queer Sex Scene: ‘Atomic Blonde’ Has a Bad Script, Great Sex

Welcome to Anatomy of a Queer Sex Scene, a series by Drew Burnett Gregory and Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya about queer sex scenes in film. This week, we discuss David Leitch’s 2017 Charlize Theron-starring action film Atomic Blonde.


Kayla: Okay, so we’re talking about Atomic Blonde today, a film I saw multiple times in theaters. When I pitched it for this series, I thought it could be an opportunity to talk about the fact that sometimes bad movies……..have good sex scenes. This is that! It’s also a bad movie with good stunts! So basically, it’s crushing it in the physicality department. The writing? Not quite crushing it.

Drew: Well, I think the problem with Atomic Blonde is it thinks it’s doing John Le Carré, when it should’ve just done Brosnan-era James Bond. The political intrigue should be the backdrop if you’re not able to do it well. We just want to see Charlize Theron kiss girls and kick ass.

That said… I saw it in theatres in a random small town in Connecticut where I was stuck for the day helping my girlfriend at the time set up for a craft fair for her day job because it took two people to set up the tent but her employer only paid for one person and I was a good girlfriend. And I thought I’d just be sitting there all day and then realized there was a movie theatre with RECLINING SEATS (a real novelty in 2017 imo) within walking distance. So I had a GREAT TIME. The bad parts of Atomic Blonde aren’t so bad when the other option was sitting at a craft fair in Connecticut three months into a gender transition.

Kayla: Convoluted and contrived plot aside, I kept coming back to the movie for the Charlize Theron kissing girls and kicking ass of it all. Imagine if it had just dropped all the pretense and overwrought maneuvering and delivered good action. It’d be an all-time fave for me!

Drew: Oh yeah, in retrospect it definitely had the potential to be GREAT instead of merely decent. But the good news is we’re here today to talk about the sex scene and…no complaints there.

A wide shot of Charlize Theron and Sofia Boutella

Drew: Did you know it was gay going in?

Kayla: I didn’t! I was excited for it because of my lifelong devotion to Charlize but somehow didn’t know there’d be explicitly queer stuff in it. After I saw it, I came into Autostraddle Slack and was like PLEASE LET ME WRITE ABOUT THIS!!!!!!! to the editors at the time. But also, hilariously, didn’t want to dig too deep into criticism of the film so asked if I could instead rank/review the coats worn by Charlize’s character Lorraine in it.

Drew: And THAT is smart internet writing. Good costumes, too, you’re right. It really is just the script.

Kayla: Do I have issues with this film? Yes. Do I have issues with the coats? No.

All the physical details of the film are on point! Which makes sense given director David Leitch’s background as a stunt performer/coordinator.

Drew: Right, and it makes sense the screenwriting is the problem given Kurt Johnstad’s background of writing Zack Snyder’s 300.

(I don’t feel bad naming him since this is how his bio starts: A former assistant director and key grip, Kurt Johnstad has an long-standing relationship with the military, and wrote the “Navy SEALs playing themselves” movie, “Act of Valor”.)

Anyway should we talk about the sex in the movie written by the guy who loves the military.

Kayla: It really is shocking that the sex scene is as good as it is. And it’s good from the very beginning, with Lorraine and Delphine’s first kiss, the walk to the bathroom, the tension when Lorraine finds her gun, back to sex. And that transition from the bathroom to the bedroom is incredible. So hot! As fluid as some of the action/stunt sequences!

Lorraine and Delphine kiss in Atomic Blonde

Drew: Yes! Also I’m sorry as corny as it is but “can I tell you something” or “I need to ask you a question” followed by a kiss will always get me!!

And another thing that will get me? When the line is blurred between making out and fighting. Especially when the gun pull is followed by the characters reconnecting for real rather than it only being for spy maneuvering.

I could easily see a version of this movie where she’s just bi for strategy but it’s very clear in this scene it’s like no this is real even if it started as a maneuver.

Kayla: 100%. My entire sexuality was basically shaped by the film Mr. & Mrs. Smith. A blurred line between fucking and fighting will always be like catnip for me.

Drew: REMAKE MR AND MRS SMITH WITH ANGIE AND A WOMAN.

Kayla: Once again, begging Hollywood to put us in charge.

Drew: I don’t remember how that movie ended, but Mrs. Smith could get a divorce from shitty Mr. Smith and meet another assassin who is a woman. How Mrs. Smith Got Her Groove Back. Was this the vision Phoebe Waller-Bridge had before she parted ways with Donald Glover? Probs not but…It is my vision.

Kayla: It is a great vision indeed.

Charlize Theron threatening Sofia Boutella in Atomic Blonde

Kayla: Delphine’s character was originally a man in the graphic novel the movie is based on. Did you know that?

Drew: I didn’t!! Did military man change it for the script or was that directorial?

Kayla: Military man lol. And reportedly, he ran it by Charlize and she was like yeah let’s do it.

Drew: Love that. I also love that it actually has a sex scene. They easily could’ve ended with the makeout, cut to them in bed, but instead there’s this awesome match cut of them falling back onto the bed and then a brief but really well-done IMO sex scene.

Kayla: It’s so well done! I was actually kind of shocked rewatching it for this piece, because I was like surely my 2017 brain (somewhat newly out, very horny) romanticized this. But no, it’s hot! It’s stylized in cool ways but still feels natural! It’s actually a lot steamier than we get from a lot of James Bond films, which usually just do the cut-to-bed move.

Drew: Yes! It’s not just exciting that it’s gay, it’s exciting that a big budget action movie takes time for sex and sensuality.

Kayla: Yes, because that is one of my major gripes with big budget action movies these days. They’re so desexed! Action movies are so much about adrenaline, bodies, physicality, power, movement, sweat — all things I associate with sex! And yet, it’s hard to find action movies that actually have fucking in them these days.

I think Soderbergh complained about this w/r/t superhero movies and I was like he’s right and he should say it! If superheroes existed IRL, they would all be having sex with each other all the time.

Drew: Since I trashed Zack Snyder earlier, I will give him points for including sex in Watchmen, even if it was more goofy than sexy lol.

Kayla: A large part of my admittedly misguided defense of the Watchmen movie is that it has sex lol.

Lorraine and Delphine in Atomic Blonde

Kayla: And then with a spy movie like Atomic Blonde, sex is indeed often used as currency, as a way to manipulate or get information or otherwise have some sort of exchange. We see that in James Bond films. But we don’t always get to see that actual exchange.

Drew: Yes! Absolutely. And it can manifest in a range of ways. Either it can be sexy in a more escapist action movie context or it can be really bleak like on The Americans. And it’s important to spend time with that moment so we can have the context of how these characters feel. In Atomic Blonde it’s clear they feel… very good.

Kayla: Oh yeah, The Americans is such a fascinating look at how sex comes into play with spy work.

Well another thing I love about Atomic Blonde is that there’s a layer of realism to a lot of its physicality. Lorraine gets fucking TIRED. We get to see her fatigue. I like this about the John Wick movies as well. I like when action heroes show the effects of this on their bodies. There are times when she starts moving slower, breathing harder. The longer a fight scene goes, the more it shows. So then I like that on the other side of this, we also get to see her character experience pleasure in an authentic way, too.

Drew: Yes!! That’s such a good point.

Kayla: James Bond often falls into the action hero category of almost godlike invincibility. He doesn’t get tired. A lot of iterations of him are sexy in a surface-level way, but it’s not like we’re seeing him experience or engage with pleasure! It’s almost like he’s a sexy robot lol. Lorraine in Atomic Blonde feels like a real person with a real body. Which makes it all the hotter!

Drew: Yeah it’s why I do think Daniel Craig is probably the sexiest Bond, even if he isn’t the most conventionally attractive.

It’s a bummer we’ve already gotten four John Wicks and still no Atomic Blonde sequel. No offense to John Wick, a series I love. But I’d love to see Charlize step into this role again! Even if The Old Guard was a better movie overall.

Kayla: A John Wickian universe for Atomic Blonde would be cool as hell. I basically want Charlize doing stunts alllll the time. Leitch really praised her stuntwork for this film (she famously did almost all of it herself), and that’s big props coming from him.

Drew: Hey, we can even do a crossover Atomic Blonde Meets Mrs. Smith.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 870 articles for us.

Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 565 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. Did you know that Charlize and Keanu sparred and trained together for those perspective movie roles? You can probably still find the footage on YouTube. Also there was talk of a sequel coming to Netflix I believe Charlize had signed a movie deal with them. Old Guard was the first of a series of movies she was supposed to do with Netflix. That was pre Covid though.

  2. Why not make a real blockbuster as good as Bond or Bourne or any other assassin but for real? Here are 50 plus reasons why Hollywood should make a film based on the life of the accountant/banker come spy Bill Fairclough’s. Fairclough (MI6 codename JJ) aka Edward Burlington is the protagonist in TheBurlingtonFiles series of fact based spy thrillers. If you enjoy noir and genuine espionage read the news article dated 7 August 2023 entitled Bill Fairclough’s Known Life-threatening Incidents in TheBurlingtonFiles website and thank your god you are still alive. After all, you probably weren’t protected by Pemberton’s People in MI6 (see another intriguing news article in the same website dated 3 May 2024 about them).

    The news articles were released several years after Beyond Enkription was published which makes them all the more beguiling. Little wonder it’s mandatory reading on some countries’ intelligence induction programs. All this is not only mind-boggling but backed up by some evidence so who needs fictitious spies like Bond and Bourne anymore? Just like the spy novel Beyond Enkription based on Bill Fairclough’s life in 1974, these articles make for sobering yet superb reads as long as you don’t expect John le Carré’s delicate diction, sophisticated syntax and placid plots.

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