- Theron kicks ass; McAvoy is wonderful and charismatic
- Plot is never stale and always keeps moving
- Story is enjoyably complex – but can sometimes throw so much at you it’s easy to get lost and confused
- Theron’s Lorraine is cool, sexy and bad-ass – but sadly nothing stands out to make her memorable along with other cinematic spies
- Excellent 80s soundtrack
- Fight scenes are diverse, exciting and incredible to watch
Even from just a brief glimpse at the career of Atomic Blonde’s director David Letich, his speciality for action jumps out like one of his stunts. With such a strong and pervasive background in stuntwork for a range of big-name films, it’s no surprise that his next big gig is helming the director’s chair for the highly anticipated Deadpool 2. Yet before that, we have his directorial debut Atomic Blonde to see what he might bring to everyone’s favourite Merc with a Mouth. Fortunately it all bodes very well, as luckily this film is more than just slick, exciting action; it brings with it a complex yet enjoyable plot that keeps you guessing while simultaneously shocking and delighting.
Set right at the end of the Cold War, expert MI6 agent Lorraine (Charlize Theron) recounts the details of her recent disastrous mission to her superiors Gray (Toby Jones) and C (James Faulkner) as well as CIA official Kurzfeld (John Goodman). Sent to Berlin to investigate the murder of fellow agent Gascoigne and recover a missing list of double agents, things don’t go smoothly. After making initial contact with Percival (James McAvoy), fellow MI6 agent stationed in Berlin, things soon get very complex, with Lorraine trying to complete her mission while constantly looking over her shoulder, never knowing who to trust. With sex, murder and frequent deception, there’s equal parts action and espionage to keep the plot as interesting as it is complex.
There seems to be roughly three types of spy films nowadays; camp and silly action with self-deprecating humour; serious and down-to-earth drama/ thrillers; and dour, noir-esque action thrillers. Atomic Blonde falls into the last category, striking a perfect balance between action film and thriller; almost Jason Bourne meets John Le Carré with a touch of Bond-like style and glamour. The John Le Carré similarity is one of the most striking elements with a story that can pride itself on such complexity. As an audience, we are constantly kept guessing all the twists and turns that are thrown our way. While a deep story rife with detail and nuances is a joy to watch, it’s not flawless and doubtless has some plotholes if you look into it enough. It’s also inevitable that you might get lost along the way if you’re not careful. As interesting as it may be, if you lose track and lapse concentration even for just a few minutes, you’ll find yourself spending the rest of the film playing catch-up, trying to understand the details you will have missed. It can be exhausting to keep the mind whirring in order to keep up with the ever-kinetic and complicated plot, but it’s ultimately very satisfying in the end.
Fortunately where it differs from Le Carré-style spy stories is where it also excels and keeps the film refreshing and more fun to watch. Throughout Atomic Blonde we are treated to a plethora of amazing fight sequences, each one unique, different and equally exciting. It’s clear Leitch is very focused on action since the choreography is second-to-none; expertly choreographed, performed and shot, we do feel as though we’re constantly in the middle of the (sometimes gloriously gory) action. In particular there is one scene in the second half where we are treated to an insanely long handheld tracking shot – one shot following this incredible, brutal fight sequence, going from stairwell to flat to streets and finally to car chase; it’s long, unrelenting, immersive and very impressive – an absolute joy and blast to watch the creative fight moves fit seamlessly and naturally together. Aside from this brutal, all-out fight sequence however, many of the other action scenes have the soundtrack blared loudly over the top – it’s an effect I’m very fond of (Matthew Vaughn in particular being the master of this, especially in Layer Cake and Kingsman). Still, it’s done so frequently to the point where the effect almost loses its potency – only almost though, because they’re so fun to watch they never get boring and really add an element of excitement to the scenes. Bookended by Bowie songs, it’s a top-notch soundtrack which really adds to the cool style of the movie and aids in the complete 80s immersion, as well as adding a touch of style to the fights.
More than the catchy music and elegant fights though, the style is epitomised by Theron’s portrayal of Lorraine. Beautiful, sexy and as cold as the Berlin snow, she’s a stern, icy character, difficult to read and hence full of an undeniable intrigue. Held together by medicine, alcohol, cold ice baths and hot cigarettes, she’s a strong yet silent lead, more than a match for fellow male spies in cinema. Yet unlike Bourne and Bond, there’s not a great deal that sets her apart and can make her memorable. McAvoy too plays his part well, his character perhaps being the most interesting. Never knowing whether to like him, hate him or even trust him, he brings some much needed charisma to the film, epitomising the complexity of his beloved Berlin at the close of the Cold War. Secondary characters too make the film’s story more deep and engaging, bringing a wealth of intriguing characters that more than push the story forward. Sofia Boutella’s Delphine and Eddie Marsan’s Spyglass especially are worthy of mention.
Though at times the story becomes overly complex and exhausting to keep up with (no doubt with plenty of plotholes if you question everything) and despite Theron’s kick-ass female spy Lorraine sadly unlikely to linger in our memories along with the likes of James Bond or Jason Bourne, this is a solid, action-packed spy film that’s sure to impress. Imbued with style and coolness and with incredible fight scenes that are expertly shot and performed, Atomic Blonde is as fun for the eyes as it is for the brain.