Atomic Blonde Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
This 4K disc release looks as good as it's star!
Whilst gearing up for Deadpool 2, John Wick co-director David Leitch dishes up a Cold War Bond-style tale with Charlize Theron kicking ass in Atomic Blonde.Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde is an engaging spy-themed action film which wears its comic book style on its sleeve right from the outset. Although helmed by the co-director of John Wick, Leitch was clearly already in a Deadpool mindset when shooting this, deploying Atomic Blonde in a kind of Matthew Vaughn/Mark Millar fashion, following the Wanted/Kingsman format with flashy visuals and a punky style, complete with a blend of 80s tracks and remixes of 80s tracks that give the film a fun vibe. Clocking it at almost 2 hours in length, it's convoluted tale and comedic overtones (it's certainly tonally imbalanced) are it's biggest handicaps, but there's more than enough reason to forgive its flaws.Of course the biggest reason - and you really need no more - is Charlize Theron. And if nothing else, Atomic Blonde will hopefully get Theron the lead roles her Mad Max: Fury Road performance should have earned her (and perhaps that rumoured Furiosa spin-off fans are crying out for). She's a force of nature, busting herself up whilst training alongside none other than Keanu Reeves, when he was readying John Wick 2, and committing to the bone-crunching badass role. Leitch certainly could have employed some tighter editing and delivered a more efficient, Wick-style bruiser, but it's still refreshing to see fight sequences delivered in pure, un-shaky-cammed glory, and refreshing to see such a strong and unrestrained female-led action thriller.
Picture QualityAtomic Blonde decimates UK 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with an impressive HEVC / H.265 encoded 2160p transfer framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen. The UHD Blu-ray was reviewed on a Samsung UE55KS8000 Ultra HD TV and a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Shot digitally at 2.8K using an Arri Alexa it is another modern production that is unfortunately constrained by the limitations of a 2K digital intermediate. Although not quite as impressive as the native 4K John Wick or its surprisingly excellent upscaled 2K sequel were on the format, Atomic Blonde still delivers the goods in style providing a sometimes subtle but still effective upgrade over its 1080p counterpart.
It doesn't always have demo material to work with but it does deliver the goods
Providing a modest uptick in tangible detail, which picks up on the ruined Cold War environment and the battered but still flawless beauty of Theron, the true highlights come in the presentation's use of the High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) enhancement that Ultra HD Blu-rays employ to stand apart from their HD siblings, going beyond mere pixel resolution, and determining the very look and vibrancy of the piece. For those with a suitably equipped player and TV, the disc also boasts Dolby Vision.
Atomic Blonde's heavily stylised comic-book look is perfect hunting ground for HDR and WCG enhancements, picking up on vibrant primaries, neons and strong, vivid hues of magenta, purple, blue and red popping with vibrancy in a way that the standard Blu-ray simply cannot hope to compete with. These are, of course, intermittent highlights in a frequently cold Cold War setting, with bland, beige and grey environments giving little room to shine, but still delivered in a more rich and authentic fashion. The simply perfect contrast, and full throttle HDR, allow the black levels and white peaks to shine, bringing shadow detail to life and framing entire scenes in a literal new light. It doesn't always have demo material to work with, and it's certainly not a reference presentation, but it does frequently deliver the goods.
Sound QualityOn the aural front, Atomic Blonde delivers a suitably nuclear DTS:X soundtrack founded upon an already near-perfect DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 core which pops with the same vibrancy as the image, lapping up the comic book style highlights of the production, and buzzing with the same intensity. It's got power and presence, but also enough precision to see you ducking in the right direction when the shots come flying.
An utterly immersive demo mix
Dialogue is maintained clearly and coherently throughout, afforded prioritisation where necessary, but arguably remaining one of the least important elements of the track, at least when the action sequences kick into high gear. Aside from the high octane ballistics, the comic book style gives the piece an aural signature, spray painting intertitles, and flashing you from setting to setting in the timeline, whilst quieter scenes are afforded palpable atmosphere. Of course it's the gunfights, car chases and fight scenes that stand out the most, as bones audibly crunch, Theron yelling as she kicks and beats her way out of impossible situations, as bullets whip past her head and assailants thunder at her from every angle. The car chase is innovative and bone-crunching in its own right, making you feel front-and centre in the chaos, and leaving you almost as battered as the passengers in the vehicle. And with a punchy score packed with 80s tracks (both old, and given a new remix), it's an utterly immersive demo mix that scores top marks.
ExtrasAnother lazy minimalist port sees the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc itself holding no extras beyond the Director's engaging and informative Audio Commentary, partnered up with the Editor. The remaining extras are on the accompanying Blu-ray disc, dominated by a number of short Featurettes looking at star Theron as she gets her action groove on, Director Leitch and the Berlin Cold War setting. There's also an Anatomy of a Fight Scene sequence breakdown with picture-in-picture commentary and dissection, as well as some Storyboards and a few minutes of Deleted Scenes.
A decent extras package that is almost entirely on the included Blu-ray
The UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release also comes in an alternative flavour steelbook packaging, with comic-book style artwork that may not be to everybody's tastes but is certainly in keeping with the style of the movie itself. Either way it's a decent package.
Ultra HD Blu-ray VerdictIt's in its action that Atomic Blonde – and Leitch's stunt background – really comes alive, with a number of superbly-shot, exquisitely choreographed and bone-crunchingly painful fight sequences that are arguably reason enough to watch the film, and are certainly reason enough to give star Charlize Theron her own headline action blockbuster franchise.
There's enough reason here to give star Charlize Theron her own action blockbuster franchise
Universal's UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Atomic Blonde delivers the kick-ass movie with impressive video and outstanding audio, as well as a decent enough selection of extras all available in alternative Steelbook packaging. If you enjoyed the John Wick entries, the Vaughn/Millar-style productions (Wanted, Kingsman), or Theron's scene-stealing Mad Max: Fury Road work, then this is a must-have for your collection.
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