Directed by David Leitch
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman
“Atomic Blonde” isn’t a movie you can hate but it isn’t exactly a movie you can like either and that’s almost worse.
Sure, the movie uses some of the trademark action, cinematography and dry humor fans have grown accustomed to from one of the minds behind the “John Wick” films but the movie feels forgettable.
It’s sexy, fun in parts and visually interesting but you forget you even saw it within a couple hours and that’s in some ways worse than sitting through a terrible but nonetheless memorably bad movie instead.
It’s disappointing coming from David Leitch, one of the directors of the first “John Wick” film, but perhaps Chad Stahelski was the real brains behind that film’s success.
“Atomic Blonde” takes place before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 after a British MI6 agent carrying precious information on covert spies across the world is murdered trying to escape the city. Sent to retrieve the body and more importantly the classified intel is agent Lorraine Broughton, a close-combat specialist and top level MI6 agent, who rendezvous’ with fellow agent David Percival in Berlin. It becomes quickly apparent that she’s been sent into a lion’s den crawling with KGB but as she finds out there are plenty of spies from around the world in the city and Broughton is not sure who to trust.
Let’s get the good out of the way first because there’s plenty to like about “Atomic Blonde” despite its flaws.
Just like the “John Wick” films, “Atomic Blonde” is visually and musically a very enjoyable movie. The Euro night club aesthetic is on full display from scene to scene from its use of neon pinks, greens and blues to the nonstop 80s pop electronic and 80s contemporary music. It keeps the viewers interested, for the most part, between the often long takes between action scenes and if anything gives you something to bob your head to on screen.
Speaking of the action when it picks up in the movie it’s as good as you expect it to be. The wide shots, synchronized punches and kicks to the music, and again the dry humor sprinkled in between (including one of the funniest goon fights on screen ever) are on full “Wick-esque” display here and its hard not to enjoy yourself when the shit goes down.
(Not to mention a whole lot of dick punches in this movie. Ow…)
Charlize Theron continues to be a bad ass too, portraying a believable kick-ass spy in Broughton and her own kind of fem Bond what with the killing, spying and screwing around. She’s fun and delightfully unapologetic in her bad ass demeanor on screen and if anyone can make a successful female spy franchise it’s definitely Charlize.
(Should leave a sock on the door of every movie theater before entering.)
With that said, the problem is that the film is, in large chunks, not terribly successful, in fact its God damn boring at times. “John Wick” fans were probably expecting two hours of Charlize murdering Russians but got a needlessly complicated spy movie instead.
Between the action and the lezzing out, is this fairly convoluted spy story that leads us to a predictable outcome which begs the question why make it so confusing? Anyone with half a brain will know immediately where the double cross will come from before the end of the movie (admittedly the film’s final twist was a little surprising) but to twist and turn the plot over and over again feels so needless and confusing and it distracts from the film’s better qualities.
(A proper description of half the film’s plot.)
The film drags in these parts as a ton of set up is built for a pretty obvious and small pay-off. There’s a way to make these sequences fun and that’s with tension, as evidenced by other spy movies such as 2006’s “Casino Royale” where the action is almost completely subdued but the buildup to the action keeps the viewer glued to what would normally be just a simple game of poker.
There’s no sense of urgency between these sequences of Broughton gathering information and conducting spy work too. She lounges lazily, half naked in her hotel room while listening in on conversations, takes her sweet time to the watchmaker who is keeping tabs on the intel’s whereabouts, and drinks a whole lot of vodka in between.
(You know what? Fuck the spy stuff! Just do what you do best, Mr. Leitch. Have your lead character just fuck shit up. It worked the first two times.)
As mentioned, the movie tries to keep this interesting by presenting flashy neon cinematography and 80’s pop on the screen but that only works the first few times. By the eight, ninth, and tenth times you’ll be wondering when anything important will happen.
All this leads to, from a film study standpoint, a visually interesting movie with artistic action sequences sprinkled in between but the convoluted spy stuff simply bogs down what could have been a much more enjoyable movie.
The good stuff keeps me from hating this film but the boring stuff keeps me from liking it too. The result is an in between, ok but nonetheless forgettable movie in the end which is disappointing coming from one of the minds behind “John Wick.”
“Atomic Blonde” may be far from the worse movie I’ve seen this year, hell it’s not even bad, but it’s bad enough to where you forget even the film’s best parts and that’s kind of worse.
Oh well, I’ll be re-watching “John Wick: Chapter 2” in the meantime…
3 out of 5
Leitch: “Hey let’s do another confusing spy movie with an obvious twist at the end. It’ll be gre….”