Why Blake Lively Isn’t Trying to Be the ‘Female James Bond’ in ‘The Rhythm Section’

Michael Appler

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The Rhythm Section,” Reed Morano’s new espionage thriller about a female assassin who sets out to avenge her family’s untimely death, is not a female-led approximation of a “James Bond” film.

Though Barbara Broccoli, the magnate producer whose family has been solely responsible for the franchise, is producing the movie, “The Rhythm Section” is decidedly not a “James Bond” wannabe. The protagonist, played by an eminently versatile Blake Lively, receives her training as an assassin from an exiled MI6 agent living in Scotland, and — in the course of her revenge — disguises herself as a chemical blonde one moment and a German anarchist the next.

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“Everyone’s saying, ‘Oh, can a woman be James Bond?’ Why would a woman want to be James Bond!” Broccoli asked, walking the red carpet at a special screening of “The Rhythm Section” in New York City on Monday evening, hoping to dispel the constant chatter that the “Bond” producer was up to something tricky. “A woman wants to be Stephanie Patrick, a complex, interesting character.”

“The Rhythm Section,” based on Mark Burnell’s thriller novel of the same name, tells the story of a young woman tortured by the death of her family in a terror-driven plane crash. Bent on a path toward self-destruction, the imperfect, cunning and surely not trained spy named Stephanie embarks on a revenge mission after she learns the crash was no accident. Directed by Morano, “The Rhythm Section” marks the latest in an encouraging trend of movies — including Brie Larson in “Captain Marvel,” Anya Taylor-Joy and Maisie Williams in “New Mutants” and Charlize Theron in everything from “Atomic Blonde” to “Mad Max” — that place strong female roles at the heart of action thrillers.

“I really wanted to see a woman who felt like an attainable persona, not some Barbie doll in stiletto heels that no woman can relate to,” Morano told Variety on the red carpet at Brooklyn Academy of Music on Monday night. “On a practical level, if you’re an assassin, you’re not always going out in stilettos and a leather mini skirt. How are you going to do what you need to do?” she laughed.

In other words, Stephanie Patrick is a new character, independent of any resemblance to intelligence officer 007. In fact, the filmmakers think making a James Bond-like film helmed by women, re-gendering an already established franchise under the guise of some equity, plays directly into the hand that keeps women down.

“It feels like a consolation prize to give us a female James Bond,” Morano told Variety. “Why can’t we make new movies that simply star women in these roles? Let women have their own person. James Bond is James Bond. As an audience member and as a female growing up a fan of movies, we shouldn’t be allowed to just have one female-led movie every 20 years and everybody say, ‘Yeah, that’s it. That’s all you get.'”

And, when women do produce, direct and star in a genre otherwise relegated to masculinity, you get a lot more. “You have different shades,” Broccoli said. “That ‘The Rhythm Section’ is directed by a woman means it’s not voyeuristic. It’s not hyper-sexualized. She is multifaceted.” The hero isn’t bulletproof. She isn’t unfeeling, and, imaginably, her martini is properly — and correctly — stirred.

You have the producers of ‘Bond,’ but there’s femininity, humanity to Stephanie,” Lively told Variety. “There’s emotionality. You see her emotions in a way that you don’t often in movies like this where a man is at the center. I’ve never seen a man in a car chase screaming the entire time because he’s terrified. And what’s honest about that?” she exclaimed.

“Men have told some of the most beautiful stories about women that I’ve ever seen,” Lively continued. “But sometimes you get that thing where they want to make her likable, or they want to be sure she seems strong or still seems attractive. They’re worried about these things because they’ve never been a woman.”

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