Published on July 30th, 2017 | by Curtis Mayfield
Atomic Blonde – Film Review
Reviewed by Curtis Mayfield M-H on the 19th of July 2017
Universal presents a film by David Leitch
Written by Kurt Johnstad, Anthony Johnston & Sam Hart
Produced by Charlize Theron, Beth Kono, A. J. Dix, Kelly McCormick, Eric Gitter & Peter Schwerin
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones & Sofia Boutella
Music by Tyler Bates
Cinematography: Jonathan Sela
Edited by Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: the 3rd of August 2017
Visualise Berlin in the late 1980s. You’re probably imagining the wall coming down, lots of underground parties, mohawks, Cold War paranoia, political movements, etc. Now add onto those thoughts an image of a bleach blonde spy who resembles a young Kim Basinger and has the impossible combat abilities of Jason Bourne. Introducing Lorraine Broughton, the drop dead gorgeous M16 agent who’s sent to Berlin to find out who murdered a fellow agent and made off with a very important list containing the real identities of several double agents.
Okay, got the picture? Now on top of all of that picture Charlize Theron stepping perfectly into the role of said spy and add in some ‘80s pop music being spread across scenes of super intense yet cool violence and you’ve got yourself Atomic Blonde, an action spy thriller with enough blood thirst and carnage to satisfy the most sadistic action fan. Lorraine is a guarded character who’s been hardened from years of beating the crap out of bad guys while undercover.
Her warmer side takes a while to be uncovered but for the most part we see her casually drinking trendy looking vodka and beating dudes to a pulp with whatever is in arm’s reach. The moment where Lorraine neutralizes a baddie by taking a stepladder to his throat while George Michael plays in the background is worth the ticket price alone.
Using the graffiti blanketed city of Berlin in winter is the perfect grimy backdrop to tell a story about a badass spy that knows how to throwdown with any evil henchmen, and it doesn’t hurt to have James McAvoy playing Percival, a fellow English spy who doesn’t have the trappings of a typical British agent of the Queen. He smokes, drinks, fights, swears and fucks his way through life, which would normally be an unflattering set of character traits but here in movie land it’s more than welcome.
It’s not surprising that this movie is based on a graphic novel (originally titled The Coldest City) due to its almost cartoonish style. It might be the socialism talking but this movie seems to borrow the aesthetics of Watchmen (2009) just sans all the Zack Snyder over-indulgence. It’s like the pages of the graphic novel have been transformed into a live action imagining of this story.
It’s not surprising that the film’s screenwriter Kurt Johnstad also wrote both 300 movies. Cudos to director David Leitch for taking what he brought to the John Wick movies and applying it to the fight scenes in this one. What made the combat scenes in Wick so appealing were the minimal takes and sometimes slow pace of each fight and that’s exactly what we’re given here. Through some trick cinematography we’re shown a gruelling and exhausting fight scene where Lorraine slugs her way through a building of enemies.
Theron paces herself through each fight with a very human quality, becoming slower and more beat-up after each opponent is brought down. This style brings us right into the bloody mix, and that might not be appealing to some of the squeamish viewers out there. Witnessing Lorraine dig a corkscrew into the eye of a burly enemy and finishing him off with “Am I your bitch now?” might be one of the greatest fight scenes ever filmed.
Despite it’s dark tone, Atomic Blonde is very fun to watch with its combination of a near-Tarantino level of violence, well-executed action, and some great acting from everybody involved. It also helps that James McAvoy’s crudeness acts as comic relief amongst all the spy talk and death. But the movie isn’t exactly perfect either as it sometimes stumbles into the spy movie clichés—though they are few and far between.
The biggest annoyance though is the twists and turns that the story takes that leaves us feeling a little lost by the movie’s conclusion. Still it’s better than having a wafer thin plot that breaks before it even starts…*cough* every Vin Diesel movie *cough*. It’s not just the leading cast that thrives here either with Sofia Boutella bouncing back nicely from the troubles of The Mummy (2017); she shines as a rookie French field agent who brings out the warmer side of Lorraine, which also amounts to some very steamy sex scenes for your information.
John Goodman and Toby Jones effortlessly play heads of M16 and the CIA, respectively, but it’s Eddie Marsan’s performance as the German informant Spyglass who’s at the centre of the whole mission. Marsan’s flawless German accent and ability to own the screen even when he’s playing a smaller role proves once again that he is an underrated talent.
Charlize Theron has proven her worth (and bad-assery) as a capable action star with her roles in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and proves once again here. It goes without saying that action movies with female leads are few and far between but hopefully with the success of a great movie like this one seeing more women on screen kicking butt won’t be such a rarity. Fingers crossed for a sequel.
Summary: Despite it’s dark tone, Atomic Blonde is very fun to watch with its combination of a near-Tarantino level of violence, well-executed action, and some great acting from everybody involved.