Atomic Blonde, directed by David Leitch, is a film with an infectious style. With its pulsating soundtrack, its vibrant colours, its delightfully brutal actions scenes and it all being within the backdrop of Berlin in 1989 – there’s much to gorge your senses on, in Atomic Blonde. However, the film doesn’t really go beyond that. There isn’t much depth for you to sink your teeth in to. But, does that diminish the overall experience? Well, let’s find out in this review.
MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton – played by Charlize Theron – is sent to Berlin in 1989, where she is tasked with recovering a stolen list which contains the identities and roles of every undercover agent currently in service. However, she encounters trouble from the moment she lands, and only her mental and physical expertise will see her rooting out the problems and dispatching of anyone who gets in her way.
From the moment it starts, Atomic Blonde has an undeniable style that makes itself known. Flashy title cards; music that you can’t help but tap your foot along too; a world that you want to be a part of. The film is bursting with an identity from the very beginning and it never lets up. You won’t have any trouble wanting to settle in and watch this film, because it simply demands that you pay attention to it – and I did… for a while, and then it began to lose me.
When you look beyond the surface of what Atomic Blonde has to offer (all the flashy, exciting colours and sounds) you have a film that struggles to offer a story or characters that actually grab your attention.
Let’s take the films protagonist: Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron). What starts off as a mysteriously cool character, soon turns out to be a pretty one-dimensional person. While I understand why the character was always so stoic and hard to get a read on (she’s a spy who needs to keep her cards close to her chest) it still didn’t help me foster any care or intrigue for the character. Scene to scene, she existed in this wooden state; never giving anything that might suggest there is more her. It always felt like the same thing – never evolving, never teasing us with a revelation that might cause the character to burst out of the mundane. It left me feeling detached from the film.
And the same can be said for the film’s plot, which I struggled to pay attention to (at times). It’s your bog-standard spy thriller plot, with codenames, double-crosses and backstabbing. Names would be thrown around and McGuffins would be demanded, but it never added up to anything that was ever interesting. I never felt invested in discovering who the double-agent was, nor was I excited to see the nefarious Russian bad guys be dispatched with – none of it grabbed me.
One of the best things a good spy thriller can do is make you feel like a part of the game. You, along with the protagonist, are supposed to play along and try to figure out in your head who might be the leak or what the twist might be. With Atomic Blonde, that isn’t the case. There is no grand plot to sink your detective skills into. You watch as the same conversations playout (seemingly over and over again) until the film reaches a conclusion that is entertaining, but not really satisfying.
But then I suppose most people aren’t coming to see Atomic Blonde for those reasons. The colourful, explosive, heart-pounding adventures of cool looking spies is probably why people gravitated towards this film. Most people will have seen the trailer and thought to themselves, ‘Oh, I want to go see the female version of John Wick.’ And if that is the case, then they will not be disappointed. Much like its wonderful style, which forever has a presence in the film, the action and the set-pieces in Atomic Blonde are superb – which shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing as the director of this film (David Leitch) worked on John Wick and has been a stuntman in the movie business for quite some time.
The fight scenes, the action set-pieces, the stunt work – every bit of it, is brutal, satisfying and brilliantly done. Much like when I review the John Wick films, I have to praise the work that everyone did in creating and executing the action in this film – from stunt co-ordinators, to actors, to the people holding the camera. It is all so expertly done and an absolute joy to watch.
It is also here that I must take the time to praise Charlize Theron. Even though her character isn’t that interesting, that still doesn’t detract from the dedication that, Ms Theron clearly put into making sure she was a part of as much of the stunts as possible. It’s always nice to see an actor fully throw themselves into something that will surely cause a few bruises at the end of the day, because it means the authenticity of the work is all the more visible. Theron feels like a major part of the intense stunts and that’s something I really respect.
Speaking of stunts, Atomic Blonde goes all out on one particular scene in which it has an extended one-shot where the camera follows an unforgiving fight scene which then becomes a car chase, and it is one that once it finishes, you finally feel like you can exhale. It fully holds your attention and it is intense to watch. I understand why most films can’t have scenes like this (the time, budget, strain and damage that it can put on a production might not be worth the outcome) but when a film does it, and does it right, like Atomic Blonde does, it is really satisfying to watch.
Atomic Blonde will undoubtedly be compared to John Wick (which is fair seeing as there is much crossover between the people who worked on those films and also the fact that John Wick was a huge influence on this film) and the question will probably be asked: Which is better? In my personal opinion, John Wick takes it. It did a better job at world building, character building, a plot that pulled you in etc. It simply had more that made it feel like a well-rounded experience. But I don’t want to take away from enjoyable time that you will more than likely have with Atomic Blonde.
Despite its failings in narrative areas, Atomic Blonde is still a hell of a lot of fun to watch. It lags in a few areas (struggling to hold your attention) but for the most part, it is a film that just fires out colourful, exciting things.
I’m going to recommend Atomic Blonde. It does what it says it’ll do on the tin. It doesn’t trick you in the marketing and make you think you’re going to watch a detailed, methodical spy thriller. It sets itself up as a fast-paced, action film, and it delivers on that. I’m confident most people will enjoy their time with Atomic Blonde, and so I hope you find the time to go see it.
I’d love to know what you thought of Atomic Blonde and my review, so feel free to leave any opinions, feedback etc. in the comments down below. Also, feel free to follow my blog directly and shoot me a wee follow over on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as that way you’ll know when I post something new. All that’s left to say is thank you for reading my review and I hope you have a great day!
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