Atomic Blonde stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine, a super spy brought in by a joint operation being sponsored by the CIA and MI6. Her mission is to recover a list of all operatives in the field and their whereabouts, which if it falls into the wrong hands, will end up with a lot of dead uncover agents. If this sounds familiar it is because it is. Atomic Blonde heavily touted its star’s action scenes but forgot to create a script worthy of this cast’s talents. Theron is great to watch, as always. She commits to the material as does James McAvoy, a fellow British agent and there are times Atomic Blonde has its moments. But at the end of the day, we have been here and seen this before.
Directed by former stuntman and assistant director, David Leitch is an uncredited director of the first John Wick (actually, only Chad Stahelski is credited as the director of the first John Wick film. So how much David Leitch actually contributed to that film is not known). Atomic Blonde has some of the same close-quartered combat that worked so well in both John Wick films. Theron is in terrific shape and she sells the action scenes better than most men would and I am told she does it all of it herself with only minimal stunt doubles being used. The final fight scene is exhausting to watch and exhausting to the combatants. But the story in Atomic Blonde hampers any pacing this film and that is my biggest beef with this film.
Atomic Blonde is based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City” and it takes place in the late eighties about the time the Berlin Wall was coming down. “Coldest City” author Antony Johnston helped with the script but most of the credit for Atomic Blonde’s ham-fisted screenplay goes to Kurt Johnstad which recycles the plot in assembly-line fashion. There are plenty of interesting characters most notably James McAvoy as James Percival, an agent who has lost sight of which side he is on and Sofia Boutella is a French photographer and surveillance hound who takes a liking to Lorraine. I mean, who wouldn’t?
The problem is that these characters are not given much to do and the story seems to be running in place. We get a lot of shots of Lorraine walking around Berlin, going in and out of buildings, meeting people of little importance to her mission and the film. Only when the action scenes hit along with all of the 80’s music they could cram into this film, does this film spring to life. John Goodman, Toby Jones and James Faulkner spend almost the film either behind a desk or an observational interrogation mirror.
I did enjoy the 80’s songs that they have used for this film and Tyler Bates provides a solid score that has an 80’s flavor in and of itself. Both fit into the film rather well and kept me interested even when the story didn’t. Although, towards the end of this film there is such an overabundance of 80’s references it is as if the filmmakers seemed to think we didn’t catch on to the time period. Theron’s British accent comes and goes and even when she speaks in the British dialect it is ever so slight it’s as if she even has an accent at all. All this is quite a shame since I really wanted to like this film more than I did.
This is not an awful film, though and it does have a lot going for it. Theron is solid, as always. McAvoy and Boutella are decent secondary characters but are never really given much depth. Atomic Blonde is told almost entirely as a flashback which is a gimmick that has been worn out for some time, now. The filmmakers did not seem to have enough faith in the material to try something new. They have all of the ingredients for a terrific thriller but every time the film goes back to the present in the interrogation room, the film seems to come to a slow crawl.
Director Leitch has all of his eggs in one basket with the action and as a former stuntman, he knows exactly how to shoot those scenes quite well and they are the lifeblood of this film. If only more attention had been shown to the fleshing out the story and tightening up the script, we might have had something special. Mr. Leitch is signed up to direct Deadpool 2 with Ryan Reynolds. Let’s hope he does not make the same mistake with that film, as well.
Atomic Blonde – **3/4 out of 5
Atomic Blonde – Rated R for nudity, graphic violence, graphic language and graphic sexual situations
Atomic Blonde – Run Time is 115 minutes
Atomic Blonde is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations nearest you.