Directed by David Leitch and adapted from the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, Atomic Blonde is a stylistic beat-em-up with a killer soundtrack. But, is the movie itself any good?
Set in the final days before the Berlin Wall falls, Charlize Theron plays British spy Lorraine Broughton. Lorraine is sent by her handlers (Toby Jones & James Faulkner) to find out who killed their agent, James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave), and stole a list of active agents and their real identities. Also, while she’s at it, she’s tasked with finding out who is leaking intelligence to the Russians. Once she arrives in Berlin, Lorraine is paired with fellow Brit David Percival (James McAvoy), who has access to the would-be defector who provided the list, Spyglass (Eddie Marsan). She also comes into contact with a French spy, Delphine (Sofia Boutella), but she can’t be sure just who to trust in Berlin. The Americans are also interested in the recovery of the list and they are represented by CIA man John Goodman. The plot twists and turns, placing Lorraine in a life or death situation as the Berlin Wall falls.
Atomic Blonde is definitely an entertaining movie with style for days. In some cases, the film is almost too stylish and not enough substance. The biggest problem I had with the film, though, had to do with the convoluted plot. Now, I’ve enjoyed films in the past with twisty plots and even some that could be called convoluted, but Atomic Blonde’s feels needlessly convoluted. Also, the MacGuffin in this film is the exact same one from Mission: Impossible…which was released in 1996! Now, I know M:I isn’t the only movie to do the whole list of real names MacGuffin, but it’s probably the most well-known to modern audiences and it’s been to death in other spy movies since. So, having it pop up in this film made me roll my eyes. So, the story left a lot to be desired for me. The film is enjoyable, but I felt it could have been something of a game changer. Instead it’s just a very stylish action movie and that’s it.
That, of course, doesn’t mean the film is bad. The action is thrilling and absolutely brutal, which makes sense considering Leitch was co-director on John Wick. This isn’t like some action films where the hero comes through without a scratch. Charlize Theron is given no quarter by her opponents and sometimes the fight scenes became a little hard to watch. Theron also has the action heroine thing down to a science. I just wish the film around her was better.
The soundtrack is fantastic with a focus on new wave/alternative songs from the 80s, which made it right up my alley. Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” was featured in the trailer, but the film chose to use an even better one of their tracks, “Behind the Wheel,” so I was pleased. The one thing that did annoy me about the soundtrack, though, was the fact that it felt like a jukebox at times. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why the film would switch tracks on the viewer, but it had a real Suicide Squad feel at times in that the jumping around felt a bit schizophrenic. There were moments where I wondered, is this a film or a music video? So, great songs, but maybe use them a little more sparingly.
The cast does a really good job with what they’re given, but while I like Theron as an action heroine, this character in particular felt just a little bit “too cool for school.” Aside from the fighting scenes, we never really see her humanity and that may be standard for some spy films, but I would have liked to have seen just a bit more vulnerability from her in the role. McAvoy is fun as he plays the British agent with questionable allegiances. I liked Boutella in her part, but would have liked to have seen some more scenes with her, especially considering the connection she makes with Theron. I also really liked Jones and Goodman as they debrief Theron throughout the film—the entire film is essentially a flashback as she explains her mission.
Overall, Atomic Blonde is a decent movie. It’s entertaining with a lot of great action scenes. However, the story isn’t quite up to snuff and this happens to be an unusually stacked summer full of good movies. If you really need to see it, check it out on a matinee, but you can also probably wait for Netflix.