Guest Post by Dylan O’Connell
Atomic Blonde had high expectations set for it as the director David Leitch was codirector of John Wick and a producer on John Wick: Chapter 2. On the one hand the film delivers on brutal fighting, but on the other it falters in storytelling.
Atomic Blonde is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, which technically qualifies this as a comic book movie (serving as more evidence that Marvel should make a Black Widow solo film). The film is about a joint interrogation of Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), an MI6 agent, regarding her recent mission to Berlin in search of a List that contains the names of every active agent in the Soviet Union. The former possessor of the List was an MI6 agent Broughton had some romantic interest in and the List includes the name of a traitorous MI6 agent. Motivation thus established, Broughton sets out to meet the shady MI6 agent David Percival (James McAvoy) in Berlin. Interference by KGB agents and Percival’s own agenda makes Broughton’s task much more complex than initially thought. The backdrop to her mission is the oncoming fall of the Berlin Wall, which explains some of the general dishevelment.
The spy thriller plot lost me as I struggled to understand the actions of everyone except Broughton, who seemed as frustrated with the whole thing as I was. Theron comes across as badass, but not invincible, and I never lost interest in her story. McAvoy portrays a more complex character, as Percival has been stationed in Berlin for years, but adds a bit of necessary humor to his interactions with Theron. Every other actor does well enough, despite not being given a lot to work with.
What the film lacks in some substance it makes up for with double the style. The color palette is noticeably black and blue, with a hint of green, and neon pink highlights. I mention this because I feared another obvious blue and orange contrast, but Atomic Blonde is pretty visually distinct. Everything from the look to the music deliver a late 80’s mix of neon and synth; and it all blends together fantastically. The soundtrack in particular rivals that of Guardians of the Galaxy or the recent Baby Driver. It can be distracting in some cases, but Leitch smartly removes music from most fight scenes, accentuating the impacts of fists and associated groans.
Expectation is set for brutality early on when we see the bruise and scar covered body of Broughton in the beginning of the film. Anticipation is built as the KGB clash with her a couple of times before a climax in East Berlin. While trying to escort an East German officer who memorized the List to the West, Broughton engages in a several minute long, single shot, multi-floor fist fight with KGB agents. This fight scene may be the number one reason to see this movie.
There is not much else to say about Atomic Blonde. It is unfortunate that the plot is lacking, but the copious amount of style makes up for it. I especially liked the fight in front of a screening of the Tarkovsky film Stalker, based on one of my favorite books, and the idea that Broughton described a lesbian sex scene to a couple of old men.
2.5 out of 4 stars.