Atomic Blonde (2017)

This one’s a bit of a mixed bag for me. There are successful elements that definitely earn ‘Good Movie’ status, but others prevent it from being a ‘Great’ movie. When I first got wind of this title, it was due in large part to it being the second major motion picture for director David Leitch, his first being the strangely terrific ‘John Wick’ (2014) with co-director Chad Stahelski, with this being his first solo turn in the Director’s chair. The trailers were effective, showcasing the obvious crushing physicality and tight choreography by ‘Furiosa’ herself, bad-ass Charlize Theron as the super-spy lead character, not to mention a slick visual style and ‘flavour’. I’m almost always down for a good spy flick…due in large part to how the old-skool ‘Bond Flicks’ factored into my upbringing…so this weekend, while it’s still gracing The Big Screen, I figured I’d strike out and take it in.
‘Atomic Blonde’ focus’ on British spy ‘Lorraine Broughton’ (Charlize Theron) as she recounts a seemingly harrowing mission, looking beat to shit as CIA man ‘Kurzfeld’ (John Goodman) and MI6 stooge ‘Gray’ (Toby Jones) draw her ‘after action’ report out; a report concerning a mission they had put her on a week prior. It seems that a previous lover, a fellow MI6 agent cameo’d by Robert Pattinson, was run down and murdered, and now the evil KGB are in possession of the oldest spy movie cliche’ in the book…the MOTHER OF ALL SECRET LISTS…inconveniently revealing true identities and alias’ of ‘good guy’ spies all around the…blah blah blah. She was instructed to get into 1989 East Berlin, in the days leading up to the historic crushing of the Berlin Wall, and team up with a deep-cover agent named ‘Percival’ (James MacAvoy) to retrieve the precious list. What ensues are some kick-ass action scenes captured with dynamic angles and lighting, some cool characters, an interesting back-drop and a murky espionage story brimming with blurred alliances and a slew of double-, triple-, and I swear…a quadruple-cross.
In it’s parts, ‘Atomic Blonde’ is an impressive solo debut for Leitch. It’s clear he understands the ‘language’ of action choreography, cinematography, and editing. He’s also got an impressive ear for slick audio, music and effects, and it goes a long way to boost the finished product. As a result of those aspects, I’m genuinely interested to see where he goes in his career. Just to get it out of the way early, the main issue I had with this flick was how loose and, again, murky, the narrative felt. There was also one too many twist/endings. I fully expected end credits to roll, grabbed my bag from the seat beside me and just as I was standing…ANOTHER surprise ending / action scene played out! It felt a little extraneous…despite being a solid scene on its own. The characters did play off as caricatures, but they said and did enough cool shit that I found myself just going with it. One aspect that definitely helped was this movies rich flavor, stylistically-speaking. This flick oozes style, and at a few points, I was acutely reminded of the ‘flavour’ and look of many of the late, great Tony Scott’s filmography…anyone who’s read my reviews will know I love almost all of that man’s work…RIP. There was an appropriately steel-grey look to the Exteriors, nicely reflecting the uncertain back-drop of the historic break-through of the Berlin Wall, while Interiors were brimming with rich colour, neon (which ALWAYS looks cool on film!), and artful shadow play. Straight up: this movie looks pretty damn nice…at times gorgeous.
Speaking of gorgeous, the cast was solid, in my opinion. I’ve had a thing for Charlize Theron going back to when I first saw her in 1996’s clear Tarantino-rip off ‘Two Days in the Valley’. After the physicality and ferocity of her effective portrayal of ‘Furiosa’, in the destined-to-be-classic ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015), it would make sense that she’d go after another bad-ass female role, while she still can…and she MOSTLY owns the character of ‘Lorraine’. I just didn’t get much of an emotional attachment to her, so the stakes felt a little diminished, which is a little funny, as she gets the living shit beaten out of her through the course of the 1 hour and 55 minute run-time! Supporting her, we also get the reliable James MacAvoy (‘X-Men: First Class’) as the sleazy and rodent-like deep cover agent ‘Percival’. He plays the character with a certain charisma, despite being a chain-smoking, always-drinking skuzzball. He seems ‘dirty’ and very much makes the role work. John Goodman and Toby Jones make their characters play through in service of the story, despite being noticeably one-dimensional. We get Sofia Boutella (‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’) entering the fray as ‘Delphine’; a saucy French agent on the trail too, who also wants a roll in the hay with ‘Lorraine’. I’ll admit…it’s pretty spectacular (along with the artistic ‘nudes’ we get from Charlize…giddy-up!).
I again have to mention the setting…and the accompanying Production Design. There was a lot of really cool period details, like the boxy European cars and mohawked punks everywhere, back-dropped by the impending collapse of Communism, underscored by a shit-load of sweet pop jams from the mid-80’s. There was a lot of retro-tunes guiding the story along and it lent well to the rapid dynamic of the movie.
Speaking of which, I’ve got the ‘Atomic Blonde’ OST playing, and in this regard, they hit it out of the park. The chosen tunes instantly pull you toward that time-period, especially us old foagies who were there for all 10 years of the 1980’s, and the Film Score, by frequent Zack Snyder-composer (and personal favorite of mine) Tyler Bates worked nicely too.
All in all, ‘Atomic Blonde’ is an entertaining spy yarn, boasting a slick ‘look’, cool period detail, great soundtrack, Cold War era espionage intrigue, and some brutal, kick-ass fight scenes (that show the fighters actually get tired and hurt…it was great!) perpetrated largely by Charlize Theron herself. Unfortunately, I did find the story a little too criss-crossy for my liking and needlessly ‘top heavy’, with an extra ending that worked…but wasn’t necessary. The characters were a little too thin to fully root for, reducing me to merely watching these people just navigate and fight through the scenario, instead of seeing them ‘live’ it. What I SAW was very cool…what I EXPERIENCED was somewhat underwhelming. This is not a ‘must see’ on The Big Screen. The hefty sound design was admittedly kick-ass on a cinema sound system but, despite looking slick-as-hell, it doesn’t beg to be seen in the theatre. I would easily recommend it for Home Viewing though, streaming or Blu ray…with a solid sound system. It’s not perfect…but it is entertaining!

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