Filmmakers love the Cold War and with good reason. While it was a terrifying time for everyone involved as the world teetered on destruction, it has all the ingredients for great movies. No one is quite sure of what was going on during the standoff between the west and Russia, so it allows filmmakers to be very creative and come up with all sort of shenanigans for their characters to do. So while you could make a gritty down to earth spy movie, you can also make a fun action movie. And that’s what Atomic Blonde is trying to be.
As the collapse of the Berlin Wall approaches, Lorraine (Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road) is sent to the capital of Germany by MI6 to investigate the death of an agent and to retrieve a list of double agents, one that could end up extending the Cold War should it be discovered by the KGB.
Interestingly, Atomic Blonde is trying to be stylish with the color grey, something that hasn’t been attempted since the Scandinavians made that bold move with kitchen design. Worked for my mum in fairness. And it also works in this movie because it is really cool to look at. The cold harshness of the greys are contrasted with the bright greens used for the lighting make this such an awesome movie to look at and mark it out different from many of its contemporaries. The way the movie is shot lays the scene perfectly, that what we are watching is something from the underground, something that was meant to be top secret until it was on multiplexes across the world. And somehow the director David Leitch (John Wick) manages to make it not seem washed out at all. A lot of movies that used grey do look dull on screen but because of the way this movie is shot and the lighting, it’s just a wonderful art piece.
It’s the action in Atomic Blonde that really excels though and that should be no surprise, the director did co-direct John Wick which is one of the best action movies of the last few years. Combined with the cinematography, every fight is brilliant to look at, combining very effective choreography with pure brutalness. Every fight is a thrill to watch, and it’s the highlight of the movie. The best part of the movie is when Lorraine is trying to protect defector Spyglass (Eddie Marsan, Sherlock Holmes) in a building after he got shot. It’s one long take where fighter after fighter try to take her down and it’s brilliant to watch as she finds new ways to kill these thugs off. It’s almost exhausting, but that’s sort of the point.
And isn’t it great that Charlize Theron is going to get typecast as being a bad ass woman? Because that seems like one of the best things to be typecast as. Of course, her performance or the character will not match Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, Lorraine does not have the same amount of depth as her, but she does excel being believable as a woman who could kill you within ten seconds if she wanted to. Of course, it is quite questionable about how she always seems to be just as much a pin-up as she is an action hero, but I think the idea is that she uses her looks to get want she wants so I think it’s ok. I don’t know, feminists will have to analyze in film studies classes to decide this one.
And she is ably supported by a very good supporting cast. David Leitch obviously told James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class) that the sets were edible because he is chewing all of the scenery. He’s having an absolute blast as this loose cannon who for some reason is MI6’s contact in Berlin, a genuine magnet to the eyes anytime he’s on screen. There are plenty of others putting in solid performances as well with Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) increasing her star power as a naive French agent. Seriously, that lady is a star in the making and has already got a CV that would make most of Hollywood envious.
There are however a few issues that stop Atomic Blonde from being a classic. There’s a weird epilogue that I don’t feel was needed as it just adds another twist to the story. Not one that changes things or will blow your mind, just one that’s there because this sort of movie needs a few twists. I am also not a fan of the plot structure. Everything in the movie is told as a flashback with Lorraine recounting the mission to her boss Eric (Toby Jones, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and the fact we know she survives does take away from any jeopardy that she didn’t succeed.
These flaws do not stop Atomic Blonde from being a great action movie. It has brilliant fight scenes which are exciting to watch even though we know Lorraine survives and it looks fantastic and not like anything else out at the cinema. Well, maybe apart from John Wick which this movie definitely borrows a lot from, which is forgivable considering the director helped to create this series. If you need a fun Friday night flick, this is a good option to turn your brain off to.