Stuntman turned director David Leitch (Some John Wick scenes, the upcoming Deadpool 2) takes us on a late-80’s inspired, adrenaline-fueled, cold-war-time, visual feast.
It is pleasing that so many recent films are embracing a good soundtrack. Obviously, Edgar Wright upped the ante with Baby Driver, but Leitch manages it to a certain degree with Atomic Blonde.
This is helped immensely by setting the film in 1989, right as the Berlin wall is about to fall. He therefore has access to some stomping 80’s tunes, such as New Order’s Blue Monday ’88 and London Calling by The Clash, which accentuate the on-screen action wonderfully.
Charlize Theron (Kubo and the Two Strings, Mad Max: Fury Road) kicks, shoots, stomps, smokes and drinks her way through the movie whilst the greyness of eighties Berlin is offset by glowing neon.
Theron also gets freaky with Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Mummy), a French secret service agent, to “exploit her for information”.
Theron meets with the man on the ground in Berlin James McAvoy (Split, X-Men), who has almost turned into a gangster himself, distributing jeans, cigarettes and pornography and living like Pablo Escobar.
We discover that a list exists with the names of every operative of MI6 and the CIA and she must get it from Spyglass, the brilliant Eddie Marsan (The World’s End, Snow White and the Huntsman).
Obviously, she isn’t alone as the French and KGB want that list, as well as some freelancers. And so begins the double-double-treble-double cross shenanigans of Atomic Blonde.
We learn all this whilst Theron is explaining to her bosses, the wonderful but underused Toby Jones (Dad’s Army, Detectorists (TV)) and equally wonderful but also underused John Goodman (Valerian, Kong: Skull Island), what happened in Berlin.
This means we back-and-forth between events in Berlin and a darkened room somewhere in London.
It’s this back-and-forth that is the less-successful elements of Atomic Blonde. When the action kicks-in, the movie comes alive. The directing is good, even though there’s a decent amount of shaky-cam it’s not mega-zoomed in so you can actually see what’s going on, it works very well.
Theron and co perform admirably, even McAvoy who I’m not usually a fan of, is well-suited to his role. It’s when the action stops that the whole film starts to grind to a halt.
Everything slows, the dialogue is less-successful, it almost feels like no-one knows how they’re supposed to behave.
However, those parts aren’t really what Atomic Blonde is all about. It’s about the action, the set pieces the thrills and spills. These elements work well, they are very realistic, except perhaps the token henchman who almost survives everything.
Leitch proves himself behind the camera. He borrows from video game cut-sequences at one point when we’re travelling in a car with Theron and Marsan. It’s a great sequence and will have you scratching your head as to how that camera moves through the car in seemingly one take.
The man responsible for translating the source material, the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, is Kurt Johnstad (300, Act of Valor).
I haven’t read the source material but the movie is very Bond influenced. Perhaps it’s the setting but people even have single letter code names like C. Maybe that’s just MI6?
I’m in two minds as to whether Leitch or Johnstad are the responsible party for the slowdowns in the movie. It can feel like you’re watching your favourite sports team in a cup final, experiencing highs and lows.
One minute your smiling and enjoying yourself then suddenly it’s deadly serious and you must concentrate to this slow section which always seems to go on a tad too long, then we’re back at full pace again.
It’s tiring. It makes Atomic Blonde a good, maybe great film, when it should have been amazing.