ATOMIC BLONDE (Germany | Sweden | USA/16a/115mins)
Directed by David Leitch. Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella.
THE PLOT: In the few days remaining before the fall of the Berlin Wall – ands thus, the end of the Cold War – MI6 agent Lorraine (Charlize Theron) is sent to Berlin to retrieve The List; a sensitive document containing the names and actions of many Western secret agents. While there, Lorraine is also tasked with getting fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy) under control, and finding out the identity of a mole within MI6.
THE VERDICT: Based on the graphic novel ‘The Coldest City’ by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, ‘Atomic Blonde’ has been a passion project for Charlize Theron, who brought in ‘John Wick’ co-helmer David Leitch to direct the project. Although there are touches of ‘John Wick’ about the film – as well as Bond, Bourne and any other over the top action flick you care to name – ‘Atomic Blonde’ ends up being much less than the films it cribs from.
Charlize Theron leads the charge as the badass, alluring and ruthless MI6 agent Lorraine, and although it is clear that Theron is more than able to take on the hyper-physical role and make it her own, there is very little else to the character, meaning the audience has little reason to root for her to complete her mission, or even to survive. James McAvoy is underused, but obviously has a ball as the renegade agent David Percival; chewing his way through the scenery and making much more of the role than there obviously was on paper. The rest of the cast features Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, John Goodman, Til Schweiger and Sofia Boutella in supporting roles and they, by and large, are completely underused in this vapid and thin spy flick.
Screenwriter Kurt Johnstad adapted ‘The Coldest City’ for the big screen, shoehorning in a lesbian romance along the way, in an attempt to make Lorraine more relatable, but this just furthers the feeling that ‘Atomic Blonde’ is a film created for teenage boys, who will love the gratuitous violence, nudity and random lesbian love scenes. The story for the film is both overly simplified and completely convoluted at the same time, with the precious few scenes in between the sex and violence that are obviously there to make the audience care for the lead character and give her reason for kicking all kinds of bad guy butt, becoming more and more complicated, as the story trips over itself in an attempt to be clever.
Director David Leitch not only cribs from Tarantino, ‘Bourne’ and Theron’s own vehicle (sorry) ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, but from his own work on the ‘John Wick’ films. It is clear that the intent is to make Lorraine as badass and ruthless as ‘John Wick’, but even though Leitch succeeds at this in terms of the action, the beauty of ‘John Wick’ was the simplicity of the story, which allowed for the violence and mayhem to ensue and to be fun, this beautiful simplicity is lacking in ‘Atomic Blonde’. Much of the film gets tangled up in trying to be a smart thriller, but it struggles with pacing issues, underdeveloped characters and a soundtrack that is cool initially, but ends up trying to paper over cracks that are too large for even Cat People by David Bowie to cover. The look of ‘Atomic Blonde’ alternates between washed out and grimy and overly stylised and coloured, and although the over the top violence we loved in ‘John Wick’ finally kicks in, ‘Atomic Blonde’ has spent too long drowning in soundtrack, neon lights, double crosses and lacklustre characters for this to seem like fun and not a chore.
In all, ‘Atomic Blonde’ should have been as fun, over the top and silly as ‘John Wick’, but it gets lost in production and caught up in its own myth. Charlize Theron is undeniably bad ass, but even she cannot shake off the strange tone of the film, nor wade through this over thought, over produced and tiresome attempt to make the cold war cool again.
RATING: 2/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    The summer silly season at the box office is starting to wind down now, but there are still some diamonds to be found in the rough. Step forward with style, Atomic Blonde.

    Berlin, November 1989. MI6 agent Lorraine (Charlize Theron) is taking an ice bath in London. Bruised and battered, she’s just come out of a dangerous mission to Berlin, which has just undergone monumental structural changes. She’s debriefed by boss Eric (Toby Jones) and CIA spook Emmett (John Goodman) about her mission. That mission was to investigate the murder of a British agent by the KGB, along with the retrieval of a list of double agents that is contained within the mind of a defector, codename Spyglass (Eddie Marsan). She recounts her story, meeting up with fellow agent David (James McAvoy) who is in contact with Spyglass and has a plan to get him out. That is, unless the KGB gets to them first. Also in the mix is French agent Delphine (Sofia Boutella), who is shadowing Lorraine and who has uncertain motives. The Berlin Wall may be coming down, but the Cold War isn’t over yet for Lorraine…

    Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, Atomic Blonde has been described as a female take on John Wick. There’s a connection here of course. Director David Leitch was a producer and an uncredited director on John Wick and was also involved in the sequel. It’s a basic starting point, but Atomic Blonde set in a different time period, has a more sensual angle and plays down the gun play and ups the punch-ups. It’s a bruising film to watch actually, as Theron goes all out with some well-staged and choreographed fight sequences. But what fights! One in particular stands out and involves some hard-to-kill Russians in a house. They don’t die quickly from bullet wounds here – they stagger, fall, get up and keep on going like a zombie. That must have been some training in Siberia. Despite Louise’s expert moves, there’s never the sense that she’s invincible or unstoppable.

    Theron brings a steely edge to her performance – tough as nails but still vulnerable when cornered. She can certainly kick ass and look cool doing it. She even manages to outdo Sharon Stone in the male-dominated MI6 interrogation and take control – without uncrossing her legs either. The plot is perhaps more intricate than it needs to be, as there are double agents afoot and loyalties swing back and forth like a yo-yo. However, it all gels together in the end – if you can overlook the unnecessary closing scene. The backdrop of a revolutionary Berlin is used well to add local colour and increased paranoia. Leitch also pumps up the volume with a choice selection of 80s classics, starting with David Bowie’s haunting theme from Cat People. Atomic Blonde is cool, confident, action-packed and knows where it’s going from the opening shot. If that Mad Max spin-off doesn’t work out for Theron, then she could certainly make a franchise out of Atomic Blonde. A knock-out. ****

  • emerb

    Move over John Wick, there’s a new bad ass in town and she’s the star of “Atomic Blonde”, the latest slick and stylish thriller to hit our screens. It was directed by David Leitch (who co-wrote the first “Wick” film) and is based on the graphic novel, “The Coldest City”. It’s over the top, ultra-violent but a wonderfully
    entertaining combination of a tense Cold war spy novel and a fast paced action film. Set in 1989 Berlin in the days leading up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it stars A-list action star Charlize Theron as a cold, ferocious and unstoppable MI-6 spy sent over to retrieve a list which contains the names of several agents (including herself) that, if leaked, could threaten to prolong the Cold War. While there, she teams up with James McAvoy’s suspicious David Percival to rescue an informant known as Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), who’s in possession of the list, before Russians get to him first. However, it has to be said that the intricacies of the plot are really just an excuse on which to give us the numerous wildly thrilling
    action sequences.

    The film opens shockingly with Theron’s Lorraine Broughton, covered in bruises and soaking in an ice bath. She sits on the edge of the tub and drinks without blinking an eyelid. We are immediately interested, what the hell happened? The framing device of “Atomic Blonde” takes place after the bulk of the action, which appears to have gone haywire. Lorraine is forced into a debriefing with her all-powerful bosses – MI6 investigator Gray (Toby Jones) and a stern CIA ally (John Goodman). Her story is revealed via flashbacks and the technique works
    well as it increases the pool of possible suspects which adds to the intrigue.
    Lorraine Broughton is an MI6 agent sent to Berlin just as the Wall is coming down to recover a stolen list of all the double agents deployed by MI6 throughout the Cold War. Unable to trust anyone, even Berlin bureau chief David Percival (James McAvoy), who is supposed to be on her side, Lorraine tries to negotiate a minefield of double crosses which she would prefer to do alone. With her cover blown almost upon entry into Germany, Lorraine ends up fighting for her life after a series of brutal fights and is forced to rely on nobody but herself. The tone is set for what becomes a fast paced, high octane and frequently chilling thriller
    with spies, hired assassins, double agents and mysterious operatives all with their own agendas.

    After her Oscar winning turn in “Monster” and another impressive role in “Mad Max: Fury Road”, there’s no denying that Theron also makes one hell of a superspy. I like that this movie gives her a long overdue chance to continue her rise to the top of the action-hero stardom genre. She really proves her worth here, even more impressive when I heard that she did most of the martial-arts stunts herself. She’s the sort of committed female action hero that we need to see more of, commanding every scene with icy ferocity and full on determination.
    James McAvoy fits the part well too, charming and suave yet totally shady and untrustworthy – the perfect spy movie character. Eddie Marsan delivers fine work as “Spyglass,” a Russian traitor who claims to have memorized the crucial list of intelligence operatives. Sofia Boutella is mysteriously alluring as Delphine Lasalle, a French spy with a crush on Lorraine.
    One of the things that I really liked about “Atomic Blonde” was the fantastic ’80s soundtrack (New Order, Depeche Mode, Ministry), it’s just stylish, exhilarating and cool. It’s good to finally see a fresh action movie, not just another remake, reboot or CGI laden rehash. What we have here is perfect summer entertainment which ticks all the boxes, including astonishingly good action scenes, stunning visuals, relentlessly brutal violence and plenty of unexpected
    twists. Every bit as smooth as Bond and as physically strong as Wick, Lorraine
    is the new hero we need. Bring on number 2!

  • Martin

    I didn’t think the trailer looked great but said I’d go and see it anyway. This is nowhere near as good as the John wick movies so don’t expect it to be anywhere near as good. It is like the female version of it though. Theron is great and looks great as always but the script is pretty poor and there is so boring bits in it too. But it is what it is. A pure popcorn action movie