Atomic Blonde (2017) Review
In 2014, the action genre of the movie world had an intriguing newest addition with the motion picture John Wick. The movie, which starred Keanu Reeves and was directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, followed the story of John Wick as a one-man army against the Russian mob for stealing his car and killing his dog. Surprisingly, John Wick was quite an unexpected “sleeper” hit that year, especially with all the big powerhouse / blockbusters film that also came out in 2014, and gained $86 million at the box office against its $20 million production budget. The fanbase of the film, which cried out for a sequel, got their wish several years later when John Wick: Chapter 2 was released in early 2017. Naturally, the film was success and gained a little bit over what the first film was able to make at the box office. Unfortunately, while Chad Stahelski returned to direct Chapter 2, David Leitch did not return to the project. Now, in a spiritual successor to John Wick, Focus Features and director David Leitch present the film Atomic Blonde. Does this newest film, which stars Charlize Theron, have enough entertainment value within the action / spy genre or is it just a generic and hollow action movie?
In 1989, towards the end of the Cold War and the bitter political unrest in Berlin, MI6 secret agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) is killed on the streets by Russian spy operative Yuri Bakhtin (Jóhannes Jóhannesson), stealing Casciogne’s watch, which contain a list of the true identities of secret agents all over the globe. MI6, led by Chief C (James Faulkner) and Eric Gray (Toby Jones), sends their top-level spy Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) to Berlin to retrieve the stolen watch. Arriving in Berlin, Lorraine is paired with David Percival (James McAvoy), an eccentric Berlin stationed spy, who knows the underground inner workings of the divided city; the two form an uneasy alliance with each other. Careful with her mission, Lorraine is immediately identified by her enemies, forced to defend herself against teams of assassins as more spy “players” agents search for the missing watch. Dubious in Percival’s intel and motives and seduce by the young French spy Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), Lorraine searches her way through Berlin for answers, trying to remain on step ahead of the Russians and Germans as the political struggle ensues within the war-torn city.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As an action-movie junkie, I’ve seeing both John Wick and its Chapter 2 counterpart sequel. Personally, while the first John Wick set the initial premise for this potential franchise (the studio execs greenlit Chapter 3), I found Chapter 2 to be more enjoyable as it was more self-aware of its over-the-top action aesthetics. Like I said, both films were quite interesting, especially the first one as no one really expected the movie to gain such a fanbase / cult following. This brings me to my review for Atomic Blonde. I never did post the trailer on my blog (I kept forgetting to do so), but I saw the trailer many times when I went to the movies, especially when I was seeing a PG-13 or R-rated film. After seeing the trailer was somewhat interested to see the film as I didn’t hear that much internet buzz about prior to the trailer’s release, but it did have Charlize Theron and James McAvoy in it (both of which I like actress and actor) and did promise a lot of stylish-fighting sequences that “looked” similar to a John Wick. So, what did I think of Atomic Blonde? Well, it’s actually good. The film might not outweigh, outmatch or outpunch the two current John Wick films, but Atomic Blonde does succeed in its visual flair, action set pieces, and with a strong performance from Theron as the titular Lorraine Broughton. In short, it’s not the best action movie out there, but it’s better than most.
Atomic Blonde, which is based on the graphic novel “The Coldest Day” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, takes what mostly everyone liked in the John Wick movies and incorporates that into the movie. On a technical level, Atomic Blonde shines. Thanks to his work on John Wick as well as his background as a film stunt coordinator, Leitch demonstrates that he has some skill in-front and behind the camera, creating and crafting several sequences Atomic Blonde that truly stand out. One in particular (a scene that’s set inside a stairwell) is the big highlight of the film with some brutal choreographed action fights and some very slick and impressive camera work that makes it looks like it’s entirely shot in one take (edits are very hidden within this action sequence). Speaking of action, Leitch peppers the film with plenty of full-throttle action that are quite fun to watch and does work great up against several of the film’s slower-pace sequences. In addition, Leitch’s vision of Atomic Blonde is nicely complimented by the movie’s cinematographer Jonathan Sela, who chooses some interesting ways to make the feature cinematically intriguing, especially with various muted colors that are contrasted up against some bright colors (Lorraine’s apartment in Berlin is a prime example). This also extends to stark contrast in-between the two divided halves of Berlin (East Berlin and West Berlin), which again helps with the overall tone and atmosphere of the feature film. Also, has an interesting POV (point-of-view), Atomic Blonde’s story structure is setup in a similar fashion to Tony Scott’s 2005 film Domino, with Lorraine Broughton being interrogated / questioned by Eric Gray and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld as she recounts that took place during her time in Berlin (i.e. the main story of the movie).
Another positive for the movie is with its musical compilation usage of songs. Of course, film composer Tyler Bates’s score is solid within the movie’s background, but the various songs, which are all either 80s songs as well as cover of 80s songs, that are used throughout the film help elevate Atomic Blonde at being memorable and / or musically catchy. This includes David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”, The Clash’s “London Calling”, Nena’s “99 Luffballoons”, A Flock of Seagulls’s “I Ran (So Far Away)”, ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voice Carry”, and many others.
Unfortunately, Atomic Blonde does have its fair share of problems that hold the feature back from being completely awesome within the action / spy genre. First of all, as I already stated above, the movie has a somewhat of a spiritual influence from the John Wick films, choosing style and action appeal over narrative substance. Some might say that its good, other bad, and some might say that Atomic Blonde is just trying to copy what John Wick movies did (remember the say that intimation is the sincerest form of flattery). Thus, it ultimately depends on your viewpoint of that will determine your overall liking of Atomic Blonde. Personally, I wasn’t bothered by it, but I can see why some people might say it’s a negative point in the film. Another problem with the movie is the film’s pacing. With the film clocking at around one hour and fifty-five minutes long, it’s not really a long movie to watch. However, due to the several pacing issues within its three acts, Atomic Blonde does (at times) feel sluggish. In addition, the film can be overstuffed at times with so many players (names and faces) that are either after Broughton and / or the encrypted data on the watch that it can hard to remember who’s who in certain scenes. Also, the narrative seems to be pretty standard in the spy aspect (the movie is set in Berlin and during the end of the cold war. Kind of a bit of a cliché) and doesn’t bring anything new to that particular nuance.
The cast of Atomic Blonde is a good selection of actors / actresses that are either known in Hollywood and / or recognizable in their past film / TV projects. Of course, it goes without saying that the real star of the feature is actress Charlize Theron as the sexy but deadly Lorraine Broughton. Theron, known for her roles in Monster, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Fate of the Furious, proves (once again) that she’s more than capable of being a lead character in an action film as well as carrying it on her shoulders (she did most of her own stunt work), making her character of Broughton steely, strong, and a kick-ass no-nonsense spy agent. Much like actor Keanu Reeves’s portrayal of John Wick in John Wick (and its Chapter 2 sequel), Theron’s Broughton is left mostly a mystery (i.e. not much of a backstory) as well as her dialogue lines, which are kept to a minimum. To me, this was fine with Atomic Blonde being somewhat along the same lines as John Wick. However, that being said, there isn’t much to explore within the character of Lorraine Broughton with the exception of what’s currently happening the movie’s narrative. On the other hand, Theron is up to challenge and succeeds in making Lorraine Broughton a very memorable character with a definite interesting to explore her brooding demeanor (and potential backstory) in possible future sequels.
Behind Theron’s Broughton (in terms of star-power and performance), actor James McAvoy comes as a close second as the co-star of the feature with his portrayal of the Berlin stationed operative David Percival. McAvoy, known for his roles in Wanted, Spilt, and several of the X-Men movies, does an impressively good job as the eccentric Percival, playing the character’s persona of being slightly maniac and unpredictable as he’s called in the movie “a station chief who has gone feral”. The rest of the film’s cast is delegated to being more side / supporting characters in the feature. While most (if not all) of these performances are solid, the movie doesn’t offer much in way of characterization due to their limited screen time. This includes Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service and The Mummy) as the naïve French spy Delphine Lasalle, Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes and The Illusionist) as the defector Stasis officer nicknamed “Spyglass”, Roland Møller (A Hijacking and Land of Mine) as Russian arms dealer Aleksander Bremovych, Jóhannes Jóhannesson (The Last Kingdom and A.D. The Bible Continues) as the ruthless Russian operative Yuri Bakhtin, Til Schweiger (Inglorious Basterds and This Means War) as the mysterious “The Watch Maker”, Bill Skarsgård (It and Simple Simon) as Broughton’s ally Merkel, John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane and The Big Lebowski) as CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld, and James Faulkner (Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey) and Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as MI6 superiors’ Chief C and Eric Gray respectively. Again, some of these roles work well with what’s given to the actors and / or presented in the film, while others could’ve been more expanded on (i.e. given more screen-time to develop their characters).
As the Cold War draws closer to an end, spy operative Lorraine Broughton heads to Berlin to retrieve a secret dossier before it falls into the wrong nations hands in the movie Atomic Blonde. Director David Leitch newest film brings the Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel to the big screen, with a intriguing action-oriented spy espionage tale. While the movie lack in certain areas, most notably within its pacing, script, and keeping track of who’s who, it makes it up with plenty of action attitude with visual flair, style-ish action scenes, awesome 80s music selection, and some standout performances from Theron as well as McAvoy. Personally, I thought this movie was good. It wasn’t fantastically great, but it held its own and kept me entertained from start to finish. Naturally, fans of Theron and action movie enthusiasts will definitely get their kicks by watching this movie. Thus, my recommendation for the film is both recommended and an iffy-choice. For those looking to see Charlize Theron kick some bad guy ass and / or waiting until John Wick: Chapter 3 comes out, Atomic Blonde (aka Jane Wick) is a great distraction in the action / espionage. It may not be the best and brightest in that genre, but its indeed noteworthy and memorable.
3.8 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: July 28th, 2017
Reviewed On: August 3rd, 2017
Atomic Blonde is 115 minutes long and is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity