Atomic Blonde - 2017
Atomic Blonde is the solo-directorial debut of David Leitch better known for his work in the John Wick films. He co-directed the first installment and was an executive-producer for the sequel. He enlisted many of the same stunt coordinators and stunt actors from the Wick series, in hopes to catch the same lighting he caught before. Proven action-star Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) was tapped as the lead and did many of her own stunts. Rounding up this star-studded cast is James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones and Sofia Boutella. The story centers around an undercover MI6 agent investigating the murder of a fellow agent during the fall of the Berlin wall.
Doesn’t this movie sound good? I thought so too and then I watched it. I usually start with the positive, since I try to find something I love in everything I watch. Let’s start with the positive.
Charlize Theron doing her own stunts was a sight for sore eyes. Rarely do we get a star of her caliber (outside of Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise), giving the audience a chance to really believe they are capable of the things depicted up on the screen. Watching her training videos prior to watching the movie and seeing it pay off in the hallway fight scene was impressive. That sequence is by far the best part of the movie. It felt real, as every hit and every fall looked to be draining the energy of the combatants, and towards the end Theron was breathing heavily and fighting sloppy. It felt very reminiscing of the Daredevil season 2 hallway fight scene, which in turn reminded me of The Raid.
This movie was sold as an action-packed thrill ride and I was honestly bored. That’s the harshest critique I have of this movie: my boredom. We have seen this plot a thousand times before: a list of agent names is compromised and the good guys want it back. When you have such a cliché plot the only way to help sell it to the audience is how you execute it. They created a convoluted workaround to ending up in the very same place every single movie with that plotline ends in. The action scenes are few and far between not giving me enough to ignore the weak dialogue and plot line.
Atomic Blonde also suffers of a horrible story structure. The events are told to us via the debriefing of Theron’s character by her superiors. We see her all beaten-up, telling her superiors what happened. We see her alive, meaning every single moment of peril she will face moving forward, we know she will make it out alive. This structure automatically eliminates any tension we could’ve felt as an audience member. Another thing that truly bothered me is that we are told this story through the perspective of Theron. Anything she experienced is being told to us and her superiors. But there are multiple scenes in where Theron is not present at all. So, how did she know all that happened and all that was said if she wasn’t there. Along with scenes that she wasn’t present in, we are also shown scenes that don’t move the plot forward at all, like her lying in bed with Sofia sharing an intimate moment. It doesn’t pertain to the investigation nor the story.
This movie has one of the loudest soundtracks in recent memory. After watching movies like Guardians Vol. 2 and Baby Driver effectively utilize their soundtracks, it was painfully obvious they didn’t know how to use the songs they purchased. Outside of the hallway fight scene, the rest of the fights are drowned in music almost muting the punches and the gunshots to the point that it felt like a music video instead of a movie. None of the song selections complimented the scenes they played over either. The themes of the songs were absent in the visuals. It honestly felt like a greatest hits album of the 80’s(the movie is set in the 80’s). Quick note: this movie had like three moments where I thought it was the ending. Who do they think they are… Lord of the Rings: Return of the King?
This may sound nitpicky but I flat out hated the font chosen for the mandatory location indicators. They used a sound effect of a spray can graffitiing the screen and the words showing up letting us know if they are in the east side of Berlin or the west side. It was distracting and it looked cheap and tacky.
While Atomic Blonde has its moments of entertainment, it’s not enough to fill out its two-hour runtime. I was sold John Wick in a blonde wig and got the equivalent of someone telling me a bedtime story. Theron’s commitment to kicking ass is why I love movies.
Atomic Blonde is currently playing in theaters. Mister Leitch, this was a bore (read it with your best Reagan voice).
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