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Atomic Blonde – Movie Review

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Atomic Blonde – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

There has been an interest from audiences in recent years of seeing James Bond played by a woman and it’s a casting idea I champion. Atomic Blonde appears tailor made by Charlize Theron to craft a female Bond. Based on a graphic novel, director David Leitch gives the film a heavy 1980s aesthetic and certainly puts his all into the action scenes to give them a distinct look. However, the film falls disappointedly short on characterization and story. As good as Theron is, Lorraine Broughton is merely Bond played straight. The lack of cheekiness doesn’t fit with the on-the-nose soundtrack choices and the final result meanders.

To Atomic Blonde’s credit, both Leitch and Theron know what they want to do. Theron commits fully to the role, as thinly written as Lorraine is. The action scenes opt out of using background music and it’s a technique that’s jarring at first and then one admires the direction taken. Leitch is almost playing with our conceptions of action filmmaking. The excitement is created by the sound effects and the choreography, rather than a thrilling score. It’s the polar opposite of what Edgar Wright accomplished with Baby Driver, but it works for the most part. One action sequence with barely visible cuts will be the highlight for many.

Leitch works hard on capturing 1989, specifically Germany on the brink of the Berlin Wall’s destruction. David Scheunemann uses colour spectacularly in his production design and Jonathan Sela’s cinematography follows suit. The soundtrack is less successful. The song choices distract from the content and feel like the music supervisor used what was popular in Germany at the time. The use of “Under Pressure” and two versions of “99 Luftballons”, among other songs, don’t add much to the on-screen action or contribute to the characters and feel entirely like window dressing. Sofia Boutella’s role as a fellow spy who has a fling with Theron similarly doesn’t contribute much outside of titillation. While it’s admirable the filmmakers chose to include a same-sex relationship, their romps are there more to excite the audience, rather than provide actual character development.

James McAvoy plays another spy whose arc is incredibly obvious from the beginning. He also continues his overacting from Split to an annoying degree. John Goodman and Toby Jones also find themselves wasted in their roles. The script employs a technique where Lorraine tells the film’s story in an interrogation room. One can understand why the filmmakers wanted to use this approach, but it disrupts the flow of the narrative. The Cold War setting also feels like it’s just there as an excuse to set it in the 1980s. The villains are dull and don’t provide any proper suspense, especially when Lorraine fights them off so easily. As well choreographed and impressively staged as the action is, it still feels empty.

Atomic Blonde certainly has a lot to offer and there are a good number of positives to be had. However, it does feel like the script meetings consisted of Charlize Theron giving a check-list of really awesome things she wanted to do. Yes, Theron does look cool and she’s proven herself to be a reliable action star. The stunt work also deserves complimenting and David Leitch had a clear vision in his head. However, the story is weak and so many plot elements serve merely as McGuffins. With that said, if Atomic Blonde leads to a sequel, there are definitely ways to flesh out the characters and create a more exciting spy mission.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison