Atomic Blonde (2017) – A Review

Atomic Blonde 2017 Charlize Theron action movie

Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde

It’s a sleek action movie set during the fall of the Berlin Wall. Charlize Theron is Lorraine Broughton, a deadly sexy secret agent assigned to recover a list of double agents before it falls into the wrong hands. She gets into some fights, shoot outs and all the while looks as cool as can be.

Unfortunately, it’s all style over substance. The movie really tries to look cool and hip with it’s snazzy color schemes and the relaxed lethal attitude on display. It has the expected fun playlist soundtrack of 80’s tunes and the rough and tumble action, but it ends up being an un-engaging slog of a story with very few highlights. Yeah, the action bits are fun, but they are too few and far between. Atomic Blonde ends up as quite a disappointing actioner.

As Theron arrives in Berlin she meets up with her contact James McAvoy. From there the story quickly becomes a jumble of double-crossing, mistrust, suspicion and a confusing romp. The story fades into the background, the characters aren’t all that interesting and I found myself just waiting for the action scenes, which are rather good. The longer the movie went on (and it feels very long, much longer than it should have been), it becomes less and less entertaining.

Charlize Theron Atomic Blonde 2017 spy action movieThe film is told in flashback with John Goodman and Toby Jones questioning a battered Theron to find out what exactly happened with this mission. The technique doesn’t make the story any more compelling. Goodman and Jones acted more interested in this story than I was. After about forty minutes into this I realized the movie wasn’t going to get any better.

The popular needle drops of 80’s music that is meant to evoke the time period and sell downloads is pretty blatant. At one point a baddie pulls out a boombox to make a guy dance to 99 Luft Balloons. It was pretty ridiculous, and not in the amusing wink-wink way, but just a desperate ‘aren’t we being cool’-type of way.

The whole pop music thing in movies is really getting tired now. Baby Driver managed to use a rocking playlist and incorporate it into the story very successfully. But ever since Guardians of the Galaxy the whole retro soundtrack thing has become an awfully tired addition to films lately. They just feel like lazy attempts to get audiences toes a tapping. I’ll be happy when this fad fades away and we get some original scores for movies again.

There’s a lesbian sex scene between Theron and Sofia Boutella, which kind of seemed awfully arbitrary. It’s a brief titialating sex scene, but it has little depth and feels more like fan service for those who were just itching to see Charlize and Sofia get horizontal. I’m not even sure if Theron was ever meant to care for her or what.

Atomic Blonde 2017 Charlize Theron fight sceneDirector David Leitch handles the action well. And when it happens it’s a much needed jolt. The most noteworthy scene that you’ve probably heard mentioned repeatedly is the stairwell fight. Yep, it’s good.

I can’t say much else stands out. Nothing else is creative or makes a memorable impact. It’s really nothing new or presented in a fresh way.

Sure, doing a standard spy story with the double crosses, secret lists and mysterious contacts is fine, but it would help if you put a unique stamp on it all and have some interesting characters to take us through the intrigue. Despite Theron looking stylish in her outfits it all feels rather blah. Even the setting of 1989 on the eve of the Wall coming down felt somewhat meaningless. It almost felt like just an excuse to play 80’s songs on the soundtrack.

The one plus the setting of ’89 gave the movie was the elimination of computers and cell phones from the story. They’ve become such traditional tools in action films today. The birth of cell phones in particular eliminated a lot of dramatic situations that were milked in older spy movies. A spy is lost in the cold? Just give your boss a jingle on your cell phone. So, that was nice to see a story that took place with the old landline system again.

This Atomic Blonde character isn’t as cool as I think the film thinks she is. Oh, she acts cool, but acting cool and being cool are two very different things. I was never particularly drawn to her or was rooting for her to succeed in her mission. She’s the clichéd emotionless slo-mo walking action hero.

Atomic Blonde Showgirls Movie Poster

Theron is fine and we’ve seen her do convincing quality action roles like Mad Max: Fury Road so this could have worked much better. Atomic Blonde might look like a shiny fun time, but it’s really nothing special. And I’ll pull out the inevitable comparison; you should just watch John Wick.

Maybe if they do a sequel to this they’ll improve on things. Make it more a streamlined story. Forget trying to overly complicate things and keep the pace up for the entire duration of the movie. Theron as a cold war action hero has potential, which makes this even more disappointing to see.

One little observation – the movie poster reminded me of the Showgirls one.

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2 Responses

  1. spaceodds says:

    Style over substance is not a bad thing, on the contrary many films that are style over substance are very good and entertaining, hell one film that has been accused of being just that is Blade Runner, and its one of my top five favourite films of all time. Atomic Blonde like Fury Road is style over substance, but when the style becomes a bore and the plot and story are pushed so much into the background that it becomes opaque, then the film is in trouble. Atomic Blonde got rave reviews, for its action and the fact that this is a heroine led movie, sorry but this film is how not to make heroine led movie; an uninteresting protagonist, a story that tries to compensate with twists and turns that are not needed and don’t lead anywhere, characters who a bore and a lesbian scene that screams of onemanupship. Sorry but Atomic Blonde is a stinker, and after enduring three hours of this nonsense (it seemed like three hours when I saw it) I came out of the screening room where a bunch of ladies were voicing their disappointment at how uninteresting this film truly was. Stick to Bond I said to them, and they couldn’t help but agree.

    I’m reading the novel to Red Sparrow now, and its a novel filled with suspence, unpleasent but needed graphic detail and the pitfalls and tradecraft of spy work. With the film adaptation being released a month from now, I really do hope Red Sparrow has learnt the lessons of Atomic Blonde and concentrated on characterisation and story rather than set pieces both action and exploitative.

  2. Sam says:

    This is a very observant review. Having watched it last night I appreciated the fight scenes but it was a drag. The “dramatic” twist at the end left me a little cold and I actually hated her character because if you think about it she offed a very good spy just to cover her identity.

    Unlike John Wick it is not a movie worth a repeated viewing.

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