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Film Review: Atomic Blonde

atomic-blonde

Set to the backdrop of the Berlin Wall Fall?

Atomic Blonde is basically Charlize Theron (Monster, Mad Max, The Italian Job) in a female lead John Wick, from half of John Wick’s directing team, David Leitch (who’s also taking on the highly anticipated Deadpool 2), set at the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s pretty good! Not as great as I had anticipated, but I’ll freely admit my expectations were a little high, given the trailers and creatives involved. It’s not a perfect movie, especially when it comes to trying to figure out what exactly happened in this movie. But it’s a lot of fun! Worth your time, and there’s a lot to love even with the shortcomings of the plot.

What I didn’t know was going to be so fantastic, is the soundtrack. Queen, George Michael, The Cure, Duran Duran, David Bowie, The Clash, Eyrithmics, a completely rad 80s mix. I’m still listening to the Atomic Blonde soundtrack on Spotify (and you should totally get on that too). Some might say retro soundtracks in films, particularly diegetic soundtracks, seems to be ever-present since Guardians of the Galaxy made such a splash. To some successes (Baby Driver) and less so in others (Suicide Squad). I am firmly of the opinion that Leitch did a fantastic job with this, especially in a gorgeously shot fight scene where Theron kicks a whole lot of arse with a garden hose and a cooking pot to George Michael’s Father Figure.

Which brings me to the reason one would expect to go watch Atomic Blonde: the fight scenes. Now David Leitch’s comes from a stunt background, his stunt work on IMDB is literally pages upon pages of highly acclaimed action films and television, so I wouldn’t expect anything less. But man, was this a well shot action film. Not to mention Charlize Theron’s physical capabilities, boy oh boy. There’s something to be said for a woman in an action film, who gets beat the f*** up, and gets up and keeps going. Atomic Blonde’s action is superb.

Plus a cast you (mostly) know and (should definitely) love. Obviously Theron is stunning in this film. James McAvoy (The New X-Men Trilogy, Wanted, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe), who’s performance in Split earlier this year is nothing short of sensational was again, pretty darn good – as he is in everything I’ve seen him in. John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Kong: Skull Island) is his John Goodmanny self, used in just the right amount for comedic tones against Theron’s sharp-tongued, kick-arse, British spy. But I need to highlight Sofia Boutella. Boutella burst onto the scene in Kingsman: The Secret Service, and whose more recent work includes Star Trek: Beyond’s Jayla, and The Mummy’s titular character. This. Girl. Can. Act. She comes from a dancing background, so her physicality has never been in question. Star Trek gave Boutella the opportunity to explore some comedic elements, but Atomic Blonde is the first time I’ve seen her be given any opportunity to explore any emotional range, and she ran with it! I’m very much excited to see more work from her.

However, Atomic Blonde isn’t perfect. There is one sex scene between Boutella and Theron, which is totally and completely shot through the lens of an objectifying male gaze which I think hinders the progressive opportunity presented. This is a shame because both Theron and Boutella are great, but otherwise, my main gripe is the plot. In Atomic Blonde Leitch directs what is essentially a spy thriller. A spy thriller with lots of style and a pretty cool mix of John Wick and James Bond, but a spy thriller none the less. Set to the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I can see the thematic parallels being drawn between the espionage heavy plot, and the political nuances of the time. What Leitch doesn’t pull off though, is what exactly is happening in this plot. There’s twists and turns and betrayals and reveals, as one might expect of any spy thriller, but it doesn’t always seem to make sense, which throws some character motivations out the window at times. I still don’t know if I completely understand what happened.

I find this really unusual, only because Atomic Blonde is based on a graphic novel: The Coldest City by Antony Johnston. Now, admittedly I haven’t read the graphic novel. But, given there’s an existing property, not necessarily the most well known IP, but something where the story has obviously already been told, it’s interesting that translated to film, that story became so confusing.

What was stunning, and I presume came from the comic as well, is the production design, and in particular, the use of colour in Atomic Blonde. Berlin definitely feels like the coldest city. Shots of Charlize Theron alone, recovering in an ice bath are bathed in a blue light, shots of Theron and Boutella meeting at a club are highlighted in neon red. It’s gorgeous. And the fashion! I don’t really care/notice too much when it comes to fashion, but even I picked up on the stylish look and feel of the sheek, high end 80s fashion worn stunningly by Theron. Atomic Blonde is a film that has tonnes of visual appeal. 

Overall, Atomic Blonde threw me into an exquisite world of high class fashion, dirty, gritty fighting, gorgeous backdrops and electric music. I don’t know if I completely understand everything that happened? But I had fun, I’d watch it again, and I definitely want to see more from Lorraine Broughton, as well as Leitch’s highly anticipating Deadpool 2. Do go watch it, it’s worth seeing a female star kick some serious arse, and then spend the next week listening to the film’s soundtrack on Spotify.

RATING: 7/10

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