Atomic Blonde (2017)

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Director: David Leitch

Starring: Charlize Theron & James McAvoy

Review Author: Shaun

Rating: 3.2/5 Martini’s

I’m a huge fan of the spy film genre, saying that the spy genre really just falls into one of two categories: a James Bond film or something less.  While Atomic Blonde falls into the latter of these two categories, it’s far from a bad film.  It’s just one with exceptional action and fight choreography and an interesting performance by its lead actress, and outside of that, there are a few other things to admire. It’s your standard spy thriller.

The film follows agent Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize Theron, who is called into Berlin in 1989 right as the infamous Berlin Wall is beginning to come down.  As tensions between the east and the west are at breaking point. Along the way, Broughton befriends her Berlin contact David Percival, played by James McAvoy, and forms a relationship with Delphine, a French agent.

As I stated earlier, the biggest positive for the movie is the stunt work, fight choreography, and the chase sequences.  The much-talked-about staircase fight, which is in a single-shot style for nearly six minutes, is worth the price of admission alone, and there are several other great fistfights.  The car chases are also well done, maybe a bit less memorable, but still worth mentioning.

Also, worth mentioning is that the film kind of plays around with the idea that these type of spies, especially Broughton, are addicted to their spy game, and the idea of the end of the Cold War only spells less complicated and far-less interesting missions ahead. There is a reluctance to get things done, and a slow pace for her mission, which might sound like a problem, but since they are using it as a story point so we can get into her head easier, it’s a clever idea.  It’s not fully branched out and again it’s a small part of the film, but it’s a positive nonetheless.  And, of course, if it’s an 80’s set movie nowadays, they have to have a kick-ass soundtrack, and Atomic Blonde delivers.  A lot of the songs are sung in German, and that makes things interesting, but still, a good song list always makes me happy.

Now when I’m listing the negatives here, some might sound like nitpicky things, but really the ordinariness of the plot is what keeps this movie from being a spy film you absolutely must see.  There’s nothing new or special here about Broughton’s having to find double agents and keep track of a list and all that, and at the end of the day, none of that really matters.  We sit our butts down to watch Theron kick ass, and while that’s what we get, the film left me wanting a bit more from its plot.

As expected in a spy film, there are twists and turns, too. Some of them are obvious and others are almost too complicated that I doubt the average fan could explain it, and again the film knows that’s not what it’s all about.  Another thing, too, is that the heroes all get a face we can remember, ideologies and memorable moments that make us remember who they are and why we’re cheering for them, and with the bad guys, I got the feeling they were factory produced.  Oh, here’s another tough goon trying to kill them, now here’s a slightly improved model of the last bad guy that can take a few more punches before he goes down,  Yawn.  A common complaint I seem to have these days is the duration, at 115 minutes the film does feel a bit too thick.  Especially the last fifteen minutes or so are really tacked on and I just wasn’t interested in by that point.

Theron is an attractive actress and a heroine we can root for, she brings a physicality to the role that genuinely surprised me. When the film is simply delivering on that, it works well and creates a very good action film, but when it’s trying to be a plotting spy thriller with all the twists and turns, it gets a little caught up with trying to pull fast ones that it ultimately loses sight of its simple goals. For me, the film has a punch to it that makes it both familiar and exciting simultaneously, and there’s enough freshness in there for me to give it a pass.

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