Movie Review | Atomic Blonde
Movie Summary: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents. (IMDb)
For yet another film with its soundtrack as a selling point, Atomic Blonde lies roughly halfway between Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Baby Driver in quality. The music is also used for a different purpose here than in the other two films, one to reinforce the 1980s setting of Berlin.
The look of Atomic Blonde is a little schizophrenic, with scenes of bright, neon lights contrasting with washed-out colours, and it never seems to really serve any purpose other than to be whatever the film thinks is coolest for a particular scene – there’s no real thematic or dramatic use for the colours, which isn’t a bad thing, but seems like an opportunity missed.
That’s a sentiment that could be applied to the film as a whole really; it never seems to really make up its mind whether it wants to be a paranoid spy thriller with everyone spying and turning on everyone else, or a straight-up action film, ending up a bit of a messy combination of the two.
To be fair, the action is fantastic and Charlize Theron is thoroughly convincing in combat, with the fighting depicted very realistically and leaving her battered and bloodied as a result. She’s not some super-spy like Jason Bourne or superhuman marksman like John Wick, just a highly-competent secret agent fighting like crazy to keep her head above water (almost literally at one point).
It’s not just the action where Theron is fantastic, which isn’t that much of a surprise for such a talented actress, and there isn’t a single false note about her character, Lorraine Broughton, until the very end, when the film becomes a little too twisty-turny for its own good.
There is one other slight issue that I have to bring up as I don’t think it’s something that we’d see if Theron’s character had been male: the same-sex scene between her character and Sofia Boutella’s Delfine Lasalle. It does feel a little gratuitous and barely more than an excuse to get two attractive woman to take their clothes off.
Boutella’s character isn’t helped by the fact that she really does serve as a typical love interest for a spy film, with Delfine serving as little more than a plot device rather than feeling like a fully-rounded human being. Seriously, her henchwoman character, Gazelle, in Kingsman has more depth to her.
The other main character worth talking about is James McAvoy’s David Percival, a British agent double-dealing to survive in Berlin. McAvoy seems to be having a lot of fun playing him, even if he does look like and dress like Tyler Durden from the end of Fight Club, but Percival is also flawed.
The film tries to build him up in a particular way to sell a twist towards the end, but it goes a little too far and, coupled with the film’s over-complexity, doesn’t leave you at all shocked or surprised with how things end up with him.
That over-complexity is the film’s biggest weakness, acting as if it’s oh so very clever and convoluted, but you’re more likely to end up groaning at how things finish. The final scene was especially frustrating, despite containing the movie’s funniest moment, and undercuts a lot of what we’ve seen.
This frustrating mess that the film has for an identity permeates the entire production, with the look of all the characters matching the time period, but everything shot in such a typically-modern action film manner, that the outfits and hairstyles really did have to be as good as they are to remind you that the film is set at the end of the 1980s.
It also ends up affecting the soundtrack as well: there is one great fight scene where the action syncs up beautifully with the music and is far better done than anything in Baby Driver, then there are other times when it completely overwhelms and detracts from the action.
Atomic Blonde is a fun film with a lot of rough spots held together by Theron and McAvoy’s excellent performances and some great fight choreography. Trimming twenty minutes or so, and losing some of the needless plot complications, would’ve made this a much better film.