“Atomic Blonde” is directed by David Leitch and stars; Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan and Sofia Boutella. It is based on the graphic novel series from Anthony Johnston titled, “The Coldest City.” The story takes place during the Cold War when an undercover MI6 agent played by Theron is sent to Berlin to find out who was the conspirator behind the murder of a fellow agent. As well as trying to acquire a valuable list containing the names, and full identities of other double agents.
Now before diving into this one I will tell you I have not read either “The Coldest City” nor “The Coldest Winter” so as far as comparisons, I could not tell you. I will be reviewing this film as an action movie, one with an international spy setting. So, let’s get into what this film did very well.
The performances were fantastic. Charlize Theron completely sells herself in the lead role as a skilled, cunning, and dangerous spy. She effectively carries this film on her shoulders. She put the effort in with all the stunt-work that made the action-sequences work so well in my opinion. With a performance that captures all you could want from a strong female action lead, despite some of the gaps in her characters overall depth.
She portrays this character with realism as a veteran in the business who has seemed to drown out the cold, unforgiving line of work she has chosen to be a part of. She drinks, she smokes, this is a clear masking agent for the unhappiness she feels but despite that, she continues on and Theron captures this inner turmoil, and sheer determination effectively.
James McAvoy was also great in this movie. He plays this shady, shifty, untrustworthy, but still somewhat charming character to amazing results. The writing for his role, like all of them, was a little thin and somewhat generic, but McAvoy with his energy brings it up a few levels. McAvoy and Theron also have a great chemistry with one another that completely sells their uneasy alliance. They are both posturing around one another, neither wanting to give up too much information, and to me this subtle game of cat-and-mouse turned out to be very engaging.
Sofia Boutella, John Goodman, and Toby Jones were all nice additions as well. None really stole the screen but they were all more than serviceable given their characters were also a little cut-and-paste. With none getting much more than superficial dialogue.
Something else I really enjoyed about this movie was the action. Jon Valera who also worked on the fight-choreography for the first “John Wick” served as the fight coordinator in this film and you can see some similarities. Jonathan Sela who also served as the cinematographer for “John Wick” was the director of photography for this one and it shows with some quality action-sequences. But while there were some similarities in the action, the films were still very different. Different in how they were choreographed, how the scenes were shot, how they were edited, as well as the overall fighting style that was used. Something I appreciated as it never felt like they were simply trying to recreate the same Wick action for “Atomic Blonde.”
The sequences were ambitious, the overall tone of the action was violent, it showed a high-level of difficulty, and was often much more grounded in its styling. The scenes were gritty and raw at times which gave off the true impression of two people, or someone, trying to fight to save their life. The story also didn’t make Theron’s character an invincible force either. She takes some hits along the way but dishes out many as well with some unrelenting determination that will instinctively pull you to her, making you hope to see her ultimately succeed.
I also really enjoyed the time-period settings of the late 80’s in Eastern Europe. David Leitch comes in with some crisp direction and overall creates an appealing anti-hero-like atmosphere with some strong stylistic effects. It was vibrant, it felt youthful, edgy, and hip, and with a great soundtrack the music is incorporated very well into the story.
But this was not a perfect film. It was a good action movie, but not a great one and I feel it’s in due part to the story. Its progression, and honestly routine approach to the spy genre. Take away the stylish overcoat, remove the time-period, the action-sequences, and recognizable character performers like Theron, McAvoy, Jones, and Goodman and what you are left with is a very familiar plot, with a routine plot direction. It was engaging, not overly compelling but will pull you in to the world it is set in. However, as the layers of this script are peeled back it feels similar to plot-lines the spy world has seen before. Now honestly from the trailer, that was what I was anticipating. It was the characters I expected to lure me into something unique, but that didn’t turn out to be the case either.
There felt like times where the film seemed to imply some deeper meaning to the emotions of the main character but it never truly felt like the story dove into those elements. Thus, the characters in this film were absolutely elevated by the performances, and not as much from the writing. It almost felt like this film would have been a much better sequel. Telling this same story with some already established characters. Which is interesting given the graphic novel the “The Coldest Winter” is a supposed prequel. I haven’t read that like I said, but to me it felt like a ‘part one’ before this movie, would have provided it much more of the substance and foundation I felt it was lacking in places.
I really enjoy spy movies so despite all the twisting and turning this plot does as it works itself out, I still found it enjoyable. This film was absolutely at its best when the action was on, but when it wasn’t it was a little routine, and surprisingly slow at times. But if you like films like these I would suggest “Haywire.” I think it was a slightly better film than this one, if you are wanting a stronger combination of story, acting, and action. “Atomic Blonde” was fun in moments, the second-act did drag a bit because without really being connected to the characters you can’t fully invest in the impact of everything. But if you want to see some fun action, that shows a lot of effort, as well as Theron pouring herself into the sequences, then I do recommend this one.