Atomic Blonde Review

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Charlize Theron does a John Wick-style Cold War Bond

by Casimir Harlow Aug 9, 2017 at 10:20 PM

  • Movies review


    Atomic Blonde Review

    Whilst gearing up for Deadpool 2, John Wick co-director David Leitch dishes up a Cold War Bond-style tale with Charlize Theron going full Wick 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. The convoluted story is played out in a straightforward fashion, with visibly damaged MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton recounting her last, seemingly botched, mission trying to get a defecting officer across the border on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, with a KGB hit squad, a seductive French operative and a potentially duplicitous MI6 Berlin station chief frustrating her every move.
    Undoubtedly, the greatest thing about Atomic Blonde is Charlize Theron, showcasing her in full fury, capitalising on the promise of a lead actioner that was essentially telegraphed in Mad Max: Fury Road (which many people, justifiably, prefer to call Mad Max: Furiosa) and further teased in The Fate of the Furious (although there's clearly more to follow there too). And the greatest thing that can come out of Atomic Blonde, is that it is successful enough to get producers to back a Fury Road sequel which is actually called Furiosa, with her in the lead.

    Atomic Blonde
    The production was actually a passion project for Theron for quite some time, having read the then-unpublished novel and seen John Wick, she approached Leitch to direct it, who promptly jettisoned John Wick 2 to embark on this. Theron then undertook a literal gut-churning training regime that cost her teeth and ribs and saw her sparring with Reeves while he worked on his Wick moves. Ironically, despite what Leitch clearly brought to the table for John Wick, it's arguably the stunt expert-turned filmmaker that is this film's ultimate weak point, often coming across as a solo directorial debut that's designed as a showcase in its own right; to display the filmmaker's mettle when it comes to helming more comically-slanted comic-book actioners on the eve of helming Deadpool 2. Had they played it utterly straight, like John Wick, Atomic Blonde could have easily been the sibling that everybody hoped it would be, and it comes so very close, but some tonal imbalance and a distinct lack of Wick-ian efficiency leave it struggling to keep up on anything but the action front.

    Leitch's vision deploys Atomic Blonde in a kind of Matthew Vaughn/Mark Millar fashion, following the Wanted/Kingsmen format with flashy visuals and a punky style, complete with a blend of 80s tracks and remixes of 80s tracks (which itself fulfills the goal of making the period setting feel fresh). Unfortunately, it doesn't always feel like that kind of movie, with Theron in particular playing it cold as ice, which clashes not only with the pop art spray paint graphics (and Grosse Point Blank soundtrack) but also with co-star James McAvoy, who goes full-McAvoy with wide-eyed, grinning glee as the Berlin station chief who appears to have gone a little native. McAvoy has clearly shown himself to have some measure of range (Split alone is a testament to this), but doesn't drift out of his trademark comfort zone here, playing it often too jokingly in a role which, handed to a different actor, may have had a more Kurtzian slant, and may have afforded the piece a sharper edge.

    Atomic blonde is reason enough to give Theron her own headline action blockbuster franchise

    Whilst messing around tonally, Leitch also tests patience with his drawn out Cold War saga, clocking in at almost two hours where it could have been a far more efficient apex predator in the John Wick mould and run at a lean, fat-free ninety minutes. Again, perhaps played straight, the added plot beats might have been more welcome, but it's not, and so the feature doesn't avoid moments of clock-watching, particularly when some sequences appear fashioned almost entirely around upcoming action scenes.

    Thankfully it's here that the picture – and Leitch's action/stunt background – really comes alive, with a number of superbly-shot, exquisitely choreographed and bone-crunchingly painful action sequences that are arguably reason enough to watch the film, and are certainly reason enough to give Theron her own headline action blockbuster franchise (*cough* Furiosa *cough*). Borrowing from Bourne (not just for the fights but also the punchy car chase), Leitch bests the modern spy franchise by avoiding all the shaky-cam that it has become famous for in favour of some far more impressive, almost one-shot, close-quarters ground-pounding. And it's magnificent. It's here that the high points of the film start and finish, with the rest merely the cartilage and ligaments holding together the showcase for Theron's gorgeous musculature. And if you watch it just for that, you can't go wrong.

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