ATOMIC BLONDE Review: 7 out of 10 (Cold War Heats Up)
ATOMIC BLONDE is a new action spy thriller film directed by David Leitch, in his first solo directorial credit, and written by Kurt Johnstad. Leitch is a longtime stuntman who worked alongside as a co-director in JOHN WICK and is set to direct the upcoming Deadpool sequel. The film stars Charlize Theron and James McAvoy, with John Goodman, Sofia Boutella and Toby Jones in supporting roles. From the marketing of the movie this has been touted as a "female James Bond" movie--and although the movie is accurate to that description in some ways, the movie is much more than that...and in some ways a bit less.
The film is set in 1989, on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the shifting of superpower alliances. Lorraine Broughton (Theron) works as a top-level spy for MI6 and is dispatched to Berlin to take down a ruthless espionage ring that has just killed an undercover agent for reasons unknown. She is ordered to cooperate with Berlin station chief David Percival (McAvoy), to retrieve the list of field agents that is out in the market to be bought by the highest bidder. The two form an uneasy alliance, and eventually Lorraine is forced to unleash her full arsenal of skills to pursue the threat that jeopardizes the West’s entire intelligence operation.
So...really it is just another spy movie with IMPORTANT INTEL!!! out in the field that needs to be recovered. Here is an idea...how about stop publishing whole lists of every secret agent on the globe that becomes something to be stolen, bought, sold, killed for? The story here is very rinse/repeat and doesn't really offer a new spin or original twist. Once Lorraine is in Berlin she deals with yet another spy trope--MYSTERY DOUBLE AGENT!!! Well, who in the world could it be? Actually, this mystery becomes clear early on in the film, which results in a lot of unnecessary fake outs, red herrings, and misdirection in the second act of the film. Honestly, the film is a bit of a slog in places.
So why the recommend? Two things. First, the action sequences (when they finally arrive) are brutal, bloody, and beautifully shot. The film's marketing sort of hard sells this and they certainly deliver, albeit with a few less of these than expected. Those looking for a female John Wick (or Marvel fans who have dreamed of a Black Widow movie) will see this on screen in fits and starts, and likely just enough to whet the appetite. The other real star to shine here is the 80s soundtrack--filled with everything from David Bowie, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and plenty more British Invasion rock. It really adds another fun dimension to a movie when a man is being beaten to a jambox blaring Nena's 99 LuftBallons or a woman is being strangled while the radio plays Voices Carry by 'Til Tuesday. The music informs the scenes throughout and takes this fairly mediocre spy film to another level.
ATOMIC BLONDE has a fairly forgettable spy plot but is carried by some kick-ass action sequences and a fun soundtrack. Theron works here and delivers with physicality and plenty of bedroom eye gazes--just before she punches someone in the face. It isn't the best film of Summer 2017, but it has enough here for a fun ride, albeit a fairly familiar one.