As spy thrillers go, Atomic Blonde leans towards the generic side. Director David Leitch’s style is more of the star than Charlize Theron is. Which ultimately, is a shame. However, Atomic Blonde is sometimes a fun ride. In fact, most of the film is fun to watch. But it plays less like a “Jane Wick” (Leitch co-directed 2014’s John Wick) and more so like a cliched cold war tale. Atomic Blonde is nothing you haven’t seen before. Despite its desire to have tropes dictate its story, the film is generally hard to hate.
The movie opens with Lorraine Broughton (Theron) bruised and beaten in a bathtub full of ice cubes. She find herself in an interview room with her MI6 superior (Toby Jones) and a CIA liaison (John Goodman). The movie uses the interview, like many films before it, as a bridge to tell its story. The eventual story it does tell, sloppily, focuses on Lorraine’s journey to Berlin and her subsequent contact with a British station chief, David Percival (James McAvoy). The two desperately search for a list that would oust every important agent to the Cold War.
Films like this always seem to have a list. The movie is based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City” and the way Leitch and cinematographer Jonathon Sela shoot the film, it feels very much like a graphic novel. Berlin truly feels like the coldest city with the bleak and dark feel the film has.
There are definitely some strong performances to be found in the film. McAvoy and Theron give devoted performances and they encapsulate veteran spies. The two play off each other fairly well. They don’t have dynamite chemistry, but the two work together very well. Theron has always been a diverse actress and her performance as the powerful Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road is certainly a good parable here. But Lorraine is reserved, powerful and smart, a character Theron has embodied before.
As expected, Atomic Blonde has wonderful fight choreography. Leitch, a former stunt coordinator, much like John Wick, has a firm feel of how the action should look. There is one scene in particular in a stair well that is the crowning jewel of the film. Theron is fully committed to doing these action sequences. Unlike other fight scenes in similar fare, the long takes show you that its really Theron doing the scenes and not her stunt double.
What the film makes up for in stylish action, it lacks in plot and character development. We get the overarching effect this way of life has on the likes of Lorraine and Percival. They’re cynical, trust no one and feel far from redeemable at this point. Through all the twists and turns the film goes through, McAvoy and Theron stay true to this sentiment, but rarely does the script dig any deeper than what’s on the surface level.
While I enjoyed the film in spurts, the plot is overly complicated. When done right, the idea of telling a story through the lens of an interrogation can be compelling, see Black Mass, this movie doesn’t do it right. Each flash forward to the interrogation adds more confusion than is necessary to tell the story. Kurt Johnstad’s script lacks the cohesiveness of other, better crafted spy thrillers.
Leitch tries to weave music into the narrative so the sense of time of place he tries to create is not lost. The movie, primarily set around the time of the fall of the Berlin wall, has a distinct 80’s personality. The soundtrack plays out like a best of the 1980’s album you might have in you iTunes library. “99 Luftballons”, “I Ran (So Far Away)” are just a couple of the clear choices Leitch makes for the soundtrack.
Atomic Blonde is a good time. In all of it’s mundanity, there is some entertaining stuff to be found in this film. It has a chaotic energy that is often hard to deny. Leitch is set to direct Deadpool 2 next year and if he can bring that sense of energy to the movie, that film is in good hands. Atomic Blonde with a better script might have been something a little more enveloping. In the end, the film seesaws back and forth between being something wholly engrossing and a movie that ultimately feels like you’ve seen it before.