Director: David Leitch
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, and Bill Skarsgård
Actress Charlize Theron commands your attention whenever she is on the screen. It’s more than just her stunning beauty however; Ms. Theron has always had a unique, mysterious quality about her. It would seem that by this time in her career, considering her extensive filmography, that she should have tackled, punched, kicked her way through a cool, hard-hitting, spy film. However, this is one role that Ms. Theron hasn’t portrayed, it’s odd considering she would seem to be the perfect female version of James Bond.
Director David Leitch took the simplistic, crowd-pleasing appeal of a revenge film called “John Wick”, starring Keanu Reeves, and turned it into one of the best action movie surprises of recent memory. Mr. Leitch’s blend of swift editing and detailed choreography turned his action fight scenes into something akin to early John Woo films. “Atomic Blonde”, based on a minimalist, black-and-white graphic novel by Antony Johnston, has a whole lot of style, fun characters, and some impressive fight scenes unfortunately mixed into a hallow, meandering script.
It's 1989 and British secret agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to Berlin on a mission before the fall of the wall. Her job is to infiltrate an espionage ring that has recently killed an undercover agent. Lorraine is assigned to work with the local station chief, David Percival (James McAvoy), to investigate and amend by any means necessary the threat to British and American intelligence agencies. However, from the moment she arrives in Berlin there is a target on her back.
Director David Leitch understands how to compose an action sequence, they are stylized, edited with an emphasis on continuity, and ingeniously choreographed. Early in "Atomic Blonde" Ms. Theron fights a group of bad guys with a garden hose in a tight apartment space set to the George Michael's song "Father Figure". It's an impressive scene that operates with an aggression that you can feel; all the hits, all the crashes pulse off the screen.
Based off the graphic novel "The Coldest City", Mr. Leitch makes the most of the late 80's setting. Lorraine's style and costume are sleek and bold examples of runway fashion for the period, making every scene that Ms. Theron walks into look like she is sauntering for a fashion magazine. Her wardrobe also seems to be a nod to the artistic and character design of the graphic novel. Lorraine is in mostly black and white wardrobe, a highlight of how she was drawn in the comic but also displaying the nature of her character which in one moment can be passive and and in another aggressive. Most of these fashionable moments, along with some action moments, are set to an 80's soundtrack that features hits from The Clash, Public Enemy, Nena, and A Flock of Seagulls.
Unfortunately all the style can't substitute for the lack of substance. Between the action scenes and fun music moments is a narrative that just doesn't do much. It's a story about spies and double agents, we know double crosses and twists are coming, but it never seems to pay off the way it would in other films like it. The problem lies with the composition of the lead character Lorraine, who isn't afforded an ambition to really pursue. In "John Wick" the character is out of vengeance, in "The Bourne Identity" the character is out for discovery, these small character motivations move the film from scene to scene. In "Atomic Blonde" the lead character may be operating for numerous reasons, which is fine, but it's never focused clear enough. Add to this a plot that wanders incoherently at times, utilizing a flashback narrative design that suffocates any momentum that it may be building.
Charlize Theron is fantastic when given the opportunity. This mostly happens during the action which displays an unshakable demeanor that is always cool, calm, and collected. In other small moments Ms. Theron's dominant presence is felt loud and clear, specifically when Lorraine is under investigation by a CIA Agent played by John Goodman and her MI6 higher-up played by Toby Jones. The highlight performance of the film comes from James McAvoy who oozes confidence, walks with an undeniable 80's punk swagger, and gives that devilish grin that adds mystery to his motivations.
"Atomic Blonde" has impressive style and great action, and that's unfortunately about it. Still, even a few days after watching the film, the impressive action sequences and utter coolness of the characters still weighed positively. That alone may be worth the price of admission for some.
3.00 out of 5.00