As the craze over graphic novel to film adaptations continues to grow, we begin to get more “off the wall” comics joining the scene. Based off the comic The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, Atomic Blonde sets itself in the late eighties, just before the Berlin Wall is taken down. Director David Leitch (co-director on John Wick) brings his unique action style to the film yet again. Leitch’s background is mostly stunt work, so he knows how to choreograph some impressive fights, plus mixed in with an interesting 80s pop/rock soundtrack, Atomic Blonde has a fulfilling personality.
WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD
Charlize Theron takes up the mantle of the Atomic Blonde herself, an MI6 spy named Lorraine Broughton. Much of who Lorraine is hidden away from the screen. However, Charlize does a wonderful job encompassing the role with little scenes to herself. Getting to know the character almost comes exclusively from seeing her interact with others, as well as watching what she drinks: a Stoli’s vodka on the rocks. At first, she only seems to be a very surface level character, who comes off like she’s cooler than she is, but as the film progresses that dividing line fades away and she convinces you that she deserves your full attention. Charlize, again, does a great job in this physically demanding role and absolutely owns the character. She commands the screen in every scene. And what is very relieving about the character is that she isn’t sexualized at all. There is a bit of nudity involved with this role, as well as a sex scene, however, they never compromise what you see in Lorraine. She doesn’t grab your attention by the way she looks, that’s secondary, she’s written and played extremely well; you know she’s in charge of who she is.
James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class, Wanted) plays a lone-wolf type agent, David Percival, who has “gone native” in the streets of Berlin. James is erratic, driven, and a little unpredictable, and it’s really fun to watch play out. He’s not the charmer I’m used to seeing him as, but he has a lot of charisma in this role. Even if David is a morally gray character, you tend to enjoy his presence throughout. Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond, The Mummy) plays an alluring secondary role as a French spy named Delphine Lasalle. While her character seems to have been implemented to throw a wrench in Lorraine’s life and her job, she’s a welcome addition. Sofia is gorgeous in this role and I wanted to see a little more of her, but her well-done romance with Lorraine served both characters well. It was also very refreshing to see a convincing homo-romance that didn’t feel politically pushed or anything. It was a wholesome addition and breaks the mold. The rest of the supporting cast does great jobs as well. John Goodman and Toby Jones play their interrogative roles well; same to Roland Moller as the KGB head.
The film does have a lot of expendables, as is normal for action films. But the thing is, those feelings of expendable-ness seems to cross over into the main cast at times. Throughout the film, it’s made apparent that characters need to do things, and it’s only relied on duty alone for the audience to believe their motives. However, as the plot thickens throughout the film, character motives become somewhat irrelevant or just ignored. McAvoy’s character, specifically, is shadier than he lets on, and by the end, you just have to take for granted that “oh he’s a double agent” and move on. But characters are meant to be understood and reasoned with. But here, even with Lorraine, we get some base motivation that is supposed to carry us through the entirety of the film, but it isn’t really enough.
David Leitch relies heavily on his eye-candy of action sequences to carry you through the movie, and it works for the most part. Much like John Wick, the fight sequences are expertly choreographed and are brutal and believable. The first act of the film’s pace is all over the place, though. It’s simultaneously trying to sell you on the 80s rock style meshing in with the dark Berlin atmosphere, while also trying to set up a typical spy plot-line. It feels too messy, to begin with, and for a good portion of the first bit of the film, I wasn’t particularly sold on the idea it was putting forth. The film is set up as a (tried and true) flashback story, where Lorraine recounts the events of the last week (or so) to her superiors. It’s a concept we’ve all seen a hundred times, and I think it just spoils parts of the story. We’ll never feel Lorraine is in real danger because we already know she makes it out. It’s a creative choice that I think needs reworking by writers all over. “The List” is a secret list that has top-secret info that if the Soviet KGB gets it, it spells trouble for England and America, it’s a bit typical if you ask me. It’s not the worst thing in the world, sure, but it’s definitely pulling the film down a tad where it could be considered one of the best spy-action movies ever.
On a side note, the comparisons to Jason Bourne and James Bond, I think, are useless endeavors. Why compare Lorraine to male spies who came first in the movie world? Why does it matter? Lorraine is a bad ass, Charlize does remarkable work; why do we feel the need to ask “is she the female James Bond?” Because she isn’t. She’s Lorraine Broughton, the Atomic Blonde, and she’s enough, in every way. Instead of trying to bring up female characters by comparing them to past male equivalent characters, we should keep them independent. I know it’s fun to compare these sorts of things, but a lot of the time, these comparisons hurt the character more than it helps. Lorraine is a bad ass, regardless of who you compare her to.
FINAL RATING: 8/10
Atomic Blonde is eye candy for the action film fan and enough for the spy/thriller fan. Charlize commands the screen in her role, and it’s a definitely worth commending the lack of sexualization of Lorraine’s character, and even incorporating the casual idea that Lorraine is bisexual, I think, is very important for future films such as these. Especially those with a female lead. The movie does a great job portraying its atmosphere, as well as its stylistic personality, but it tends to feel a bit flat in the departments of character motivation as well as the overarching plotline. But all in all, Atomic Blonde is really fun, and you can’t help but feel a bit of an adrenaline rush in a few parts, especially that ~8~ minute fluid one-shot brutal action sequence. It was one of the best pieces of filmmaking I’ve seen all year.