Movie Review: Atomic Blonde
Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron's newest release, is a spy thriller based on the graphic novel, The Coldest City. It follows the character of Lorraine Broughton, a top level MI6 operative right before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was directed by David Leitch, a former stuntman and stunt coordinator who previously helped direct John Wick and is currently directing Deadpool 2. This highly stylized thriller contains an impressive supporting cast in James McAvoy as an MI6 agent in Berlin, Sofia Boutella as a French spy, John Goldman as a CIA operative, and Toby Jones as Broughton’s MI6 superior.
The film begins with a clip of President Reagan calling for Mr. Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. However, this story begins right before the Wall actually falls. MI6 Agent James Gasciogne, who has been betrayed by a double agent named Satchel, is killed by a KGB agent. The agent takes his watch, which contains a list of all the agents that have been active during the Cold War in the Soviet Union. From there, we are introduced to Lorraine, who is giving an account of what happened after that and in the days leading up to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. She recounts her search for the list and the details of her mission to her superiors, and as the tale unfolds, we see the roles that McAvoy's Percival and Boutella's Delphine play in the greater scheme of things.
So, even as I'm writing this, I find it difficult to write a concise synopsis. The time jumps and flashbacks were throughout the entire film, and while there is some perspective to be gained in the structure, it also just gets boring at times. The whole idea of a list of agents falling into the wrong hands has been done plenty of times before, and whenever Skyfall executed part of that storyline so flawlessly back in 2012, it kind of falls short here. The plot often seems convoluted and messy, which detracts from what could be an exciting spy thriller. The amount of gore and blood present from fight scene to fight scene was also inconsistent, which was distracting at times.
However, Atomic Blonde is still slightly redeemed by several other aspects. Charlize Theron plays an exceptional agent, and it's easy to see that she fully committed to the fight choreography in the film. The execution of that choreography was one of the best parts of the movie whenever it was happening, and considering the director is a former stunt coordinator, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. The cinematography during those sequences also added a great deal to the overall effect of those scenes. It was also realistic when the fight scenes were occurring, which I appreciated. When she receives a devastating blow, she staggers and has to catch her breath before continuing. She's not a machine, and I like that they didn't try to make her into one. Boutella also gets to show off a bit more of her acting chops here, and McAvoy gives a great performance as an operative that we’re not entirely sure we can trust.
One of the other more redeeming qualities in my opinion was its use of music. Another movie following in the footsteps of Guardians of the Galaxy, Leitch used the music not just to further establish the setting but to enhance fight sequences and to sometimes heighten the irony of the moment. Truly, their use of the song “Father Figure” by George Michael was superb, and it ended up being one of my favorite scenes of the entire film. For a film that only had a budget of $30 million, it’s impressive to see the soundtrack that they managed to compile.
Overall, Atomic Blonde had a unique style, some incredible action sequences, but a less than overwhelming plot. It had some nice twists and turns along the way concerning the identity of the double agent, but it wasn’t enough to keep boredom completely at bay. It is a fun action movie for the end of the summer even with its faults. If you miss it in the theater, though, consider this to be a good Redbox rental in the future when little ones are not around.