Atomic Blonde (2017) Review
A War Machine Springs to Life
Atomic Blonde is based on a graphic novel called The Coldest City by Antony Johnston (Wasteland, Dead Space) and Sam Hart. The action spy thriller film is a five-year, $30 million passion project of Charlize Theron who helped produce the film and who claims that Mad Max: Fury Road and its awesome reception is what finally made the Atomic Blonde film concept a reality. The film is also the solo directorial debut for David Leitch, co-director of John Wick.
This year has been an incredible year for women in film. Wonder Woman empowered women in a way that made a significant mark on superhero films. Atomic Blonde does something similar for the action and spy film genres. Charlize Theron is absolutely kick ass in the lead role. When you’re first introduced to Lorraine, she’s sitting in a bathtub full of ice cubes and water. Lorraine is covered in bruises and lacerations. She chugs vodka straight as she nurses her wounds. Theron is able to be provocative and insanely skilled in hand to hand combat, but more importantly, in a single scene without seeing her lift a finger the audience realizes from the opening of the film that this is a woman who isn’t afraid to throw down with whoever happens to be in her way. She may look like hell, but the other guy as well as his six buddies are likely no longer breathing or are a puddle of broken bones and bloodcurdling screams if they were lucky enough to live through the encounter.
Charlize Theron executes these intense fight sequences involving a garden hose and a corkscrew that are extremely impressive. The stairway sequence where Lorraine is attempting to protect Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) is as incredible as the “Freebird” infused church sequence from Kingsman: The Secret Service or the stairwell sequence from the second season of Daredevil. While it feels like a long one-take fight scene, it seems as though action films are finding more convenient and clever ways to seamlessly cut without the audience noticing. Every time someone’s torso comes into frame to block the shot seems like a perfect opportunity to reset the scene or cut if need be. This could purely be speculation, but if that scene isn’t one long sequence without any cuts then those edits are likely made where it isn’t as noticeable. There are rumors of a potential John Wick/Atomic Blonde crossover where John and Lorraine could either team up or face off in spectacular fashion, which is even more interesting since Charlize Theron actually trained with Keanu Reeves for this film, but you can’t help but feel like Lorraine may have the upper hand.
Apart from the action and Charlize Theron, James McAvoy delivers a memorable performance that taps into the nastiness he channeled in Filth. McAvoy is untrustworthy due to his erratic nature thanks to constantly being under the influence of various narcotics, but it’s difficult to determine which side he’s on if he’s on any side at all other than his own. The Percival character is underhanded and fights dirty, but you can’t help and appreciate the talent McAvoy brings to being someone you hate.
There are a few hiccups Atomic Blonde has within its action packed formula. While the film has the action and atmosphere of a spy film down to an almost flawless degree, the premise is a bit too basic for its own good. The film is massively predictable because of it. The whole 80s vibe wears thin entirely too quickly. Being born in the 80s, I’m as much a fan of the decade as anyone else but the film seriously has like two or three different versions of “Blue Monday” and “99 Red Balloons” on the soundtrack. It was also practically indecipherable whether or not the various colors of bright, fluorescent lighting used in the film had any sort of meaning or if that’s just thinking about it too much. These observations may be pointless, but blue seemed to signify isolation while red was mostly utilized when Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) came around and the two colors were used simultaneously once Lorraine and Delphine became intimate. White seemed to symbolize uncertainty, green was for planning, and yellow was for confliction. Again, this could all be coincidence, but it’s interesting to speculate.
While Atomic Blonde is fairly predictable and not entirely an original concept, it executes its bone cracking, blood-spewing, and intense action with breakneck speed in a brutally satisfying way that is undoubtedly entertaining. Atomic Blonde pulls off gratuitously awesome violence in ways John Wick can only dream of.