‘Atomic Blonde’ Pulls Its Punches

When I first saw the trailer for Atomic Blonde I was thrilled. As an avid 007 fan and a strong supporter of ass-kicking women, I couldn’t wait to see a phenomenal actress like Charlize Theron in the kind of gritty role usually left to men. And it was almost everything I hoped it would be- but not quite.

Released July 28, and directed by David Leitch, Atomic Blonde was written by Kurt Johnstad, and based on graphic novels by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. Set during November 1989 in East and West Berlin during the wall’s final days, the film starred Theron as super spy Lorraine Broughton, James McAvoy as David Percival, Eddie Marsan as Spyglass, Bill Skarsgard as Merkel, and Sofia Boutella as Delphine Lasalle. It had all the components to make it phenomenal – but somehow failed to tie them together.

Let me start by saying this was in no way a bad movie. Theron was born to play this role. She brings gravitas and a compelling charm to Lorraine Broughton, and combined with her authentic athleticism and killer stilettos, she’s the superspy I never knew I needed. The cinematography was phenomenal. The contrast of vivid, moody neon with the bleak concrete of Cold War Berlin is set to a brilliant soundtrack of synth-y pop hits of the past, and sprinkled with lingerie and dry humor. The gratuitous fight scenes were extensively choreographed and viscerally felt, as the camera ducks and swings along with the action as if it were a participant as much as an observer. As for the costuming, I’ve never wished a movie credited the brands used before seeing this (if anyone knows where to buy those boots let me know).  There was no arbitrary styling- each actor is put in outfits that add to the characters and compliment their surroundings.

However, if you are looking for something more than cleanly crafted violence artistically set with some throwback hits (like a viable plot), prepare to be disappointed. I feel like the film wasted a setting that was overflowing with resonant possibility, as well as a cast of solid actors who were never used to their full potential. Atomic Blonde sets the scene for an emotional backstory and a breakneck plot, then pulls almost all of its punches. For a film that portrays itself to be so cuttingly intelligent, it leaves viewers with a web of double and triple crosses that are both pretentiously complicated and irritatingly blatant. It dangles a tragic backstory, then becomes so wrapped up in its tightly choreographed violence that it forgets it ever mentioned it.

That said, I still think you should go watch this movie. For all my complaining about the wanting plot, I was never bored. The fight scenes left me with a rapt, face-splitting grin, and the film is truly a work of art. It was exhilarating to see a talented actress in an action film as more than a decorative ornament in a backless dress; and Theron manages to bring her sexuality, femininity, grittiness, and edge all in equal parts. While I feel like the film is too wrapped up in its own artiness to ever really worry about making a lot of sense, if Lorraine Broughton tackles the big screen again I will definitely buy a ticket to watch her kick ass in another impeccable trench coat.

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