One thing is for sure: I am happy that this movie is out. I was exhausted from watching the trailer. Over and over again before every YouTube video, in between every broadcast of my favorite cartoons - I was pretty over it. The snap neck editing of the trailer and the Kanye West/Depeche Mode mash-up music made the movie look pretty intriguing the first ten times I saw it. The Atomic Blonde, or Charlize Theron, provides a fresh face to the action genre having cut her teeth in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ and as the cold and emotionless captain of the ‘Prometheus.’ America is ready for a blonde, female, action star. At least we were before movies such as ‘Kill-Bill’ and the underrated ‘Columbiana’ came out. The ironic thing is, I actually preferred the trailer to the actual film.
I wanted to walk out of this film. In between the excellent action set pieces, it is dreadfully boring.
The action scenes are the reason to see this movie, as the director, David Leitch, is one half of the team that made the ‘John Wick’ series. Those movies, well known for their excellent fight scenes (thanks to a committed Keanu Reeves), also have stories that take a backseat. If you recall my review of the first John Wick, the story is the simplest of stories. A group of bad guys kill the pet of a retired assassin, then he seeks revenge. It’s pretty straightforward. It is evidently clear those movies are not about the story. I wish Atomic Blonde had taken better notes.
Based on a graphic novel by author Antony Johnston, The Coldest City, was adapted into Atomic Blonde. Not having read the graphic novel, I have no idea if the comic contained a more coherent plot. However the result is basically ‘Jason Bourne goes to the disco.’ I hope you enjoyed all the scenes in James Bond, or really any spy movie ever, where characters sitting in a office have long drawn out conversations about double agents and name drop characters you were never introduced to. Essentially, these scenes could be in another language and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Imagine the plot from the first Mission: Impossible movie from 1996, now throw a cool 1980’s soundtrack over it, stylize the camera angles and the costumes a little more and you essentially have Atomic Blonde.
Outside the incoherent plot, Atomic Blonde is oozing with cool. Cool sunglasses, cool film filters, the cool neo-British filmmaking America loves so much. Charlize Theron is excellent and is impressively dynamic. She chews up the scenes in this movie faster than the actors chew up their ever dangling cigarettes. If this were any other movie, she would be my new favorite action film star. It is not surprising that with Atomic Blonde, even good actors such as John Goodman and James McAvoy, can’t make a poorly written film better.
As film stars such as Charlize Theron start to age, we may see a shift in the way films are produced. What Liam Neeson did for the dad action movie crowd in ‘Taken,’ we could see Charlize Theron do for the “aging female film star that still has it” action movie. Taken inspired many older actors to jump back into action films as 2015 was the year for the revenge of any actor over 50 movie. We got films such as Denzel Washington’s take on ‘The Equalizer,’ we got Kevin Costner in ‘Three Days To Kill,’ and we got Pierce Brosnan in ‘The November Man.’ Just to name a few off the top of my head. Charlize Theron is excellent and a symbol of feminine empowerment. If Atomic Blonde does well, we will see more movies like it with strong female leads. Personally, I’d rather watch a hot older woman kicking ass through a crappy film, then have someone try to sell me on Pierce Brosnan being a believable action star any day.
Which leaves us with the question: should you go see this over marketed and terribly written movie? The action is awesome - long takes, hidden edits, improvised weapons, and you have some of the best action scenes ever committed to a film. However, I’d wait until this one is out on demand or however you inhale your media. That way you can just cut to the sex, so to speak.