Atomic Blonde review: Charlize Theron channels her inner John Wick in this eighties-set spy action-thriller.
Atomic Blonde review by Kat Hughes.
Director David Leitch has been in the movie industry for years. He started life as a stunt double, most notably working on The Matrix films, before venturing into directing with stunt-mate Chad Stahelski. The duo’s first project, John Wick, took the world by storm. What on paper should have been a terrible DTV, was actually an inventive an incredible tour-de-force. Now Leitch ventures out on his own with Atomic Blonde.
Atomic Blonde sees Charlize Theron take centre stage in an eighties-set tale of Cold War spies. Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent, tasked with retrieving an important list from Berlin during the fall of the Berlin Wall. Upon arrival, she partners with David Percival (played by James McAvoy), an embedded station chief, to navigate her way through the deadliest game of spies.
Before we delve any further into this review, I feel that it’s important to let you all know that my name is Kat, and I have a John Wick addiction. This means that try as I might, I can’t not compare Atomic Blonde to Leitch’s previous work. For the most part, Atomic Blonde works very much as a ‘female John Wick’; Charlize is suitably kick-ass, the visuals are neon-soaked stunning, the action is superb, and there are of course, plenty of headshots. Last time around Leitch made a film that felt like a graphic novel, this time he’s made a graphic novel into a film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite pull off the full graphic novel feel of John Wick – it’s not quite as heightened. It does however, tell a compelling action-packed story.
John Wick was a film all about Keanu Reeves, similarly, Atomic Blonde is all about Charlize. She is in almost every frame, oozing malice and sensuality; Lorraine is definitely one of the deadlier of the female species. Theron has never been hotter, and practically melts the Berlin snow around her. She’s simply magnetic and suitably kick-ass. In terms of her action prowess, Theron has come on leaps and bounds from Aeon Flux. In preparation for the role she not only trained with 87 Eleven, but also with former co-star Keanu Reeves, and her hard work shows. Like John Wick, we actually get to see Charlize fighting a plethora of bad guys and she can certainly hold her own. When it comes to action, 87 Eleven once again throw down the gauntlet to everyone else. They prove that they’re the team to beat when it comes to action. The sequences are bloody, brutal and breath-taking. Special recognition should go to Daniel Bernhardt, a massively underrated action star. He starred in both The Matrix Reloaded and John Wick, where he had some fantastic bouts, but here his fights with Charlize are simply immense.
Visually, Atomic Blonde is steeped in what will surely become Leitch’s signature style. There are neon hues and coloured filters galore, adding to the graphic novel and otherworldly vibe. Plus, it just looks really cool, exactly what you need in a movie like this. Tyler Bates returns as music maker and has created what may very well be his greatest work yet. The score itself is synth-heavy and be-fitting of the era, whilst still managing to feel modern. The soundtrack features tracks from a variety of artists including David Bowie, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Nena. The latter features twice as it also gets the remix treatment from Kaleida, the people behind John Wick’s beautiful Think. Blue Monday also gets another remix, this time from HEALTH, the song kicking-off the film’s bone-crunching opener.
Related: John Wick review
Where Atomic Blonde falters, is in the story. Told through flashbacks as Lorraine is debriefed, the story inevitably loses its element of threat. If your main character is telling the story, the chances are they’re going to make it through the run-time. The rest of the story aligns with the usual spy thriller / Bond narrative, and is sadly a little convoluted with perhaps a twist or two too many. Lorraine even gets her own Bond – or should that be Blonde – girl in the form of Sofia Boutella. The chemistry between the two is scorching and it’s a shame that they don’t get more scenes together. It is also potentially a little too ‘talky’ in places – we’re all here for the action, right? Despite being ever so slightly too long, Atomic Blonde feels like a James Bond film on crack, which is definitely a positive.
Brutal, beautiful, and bad-ass, Atomic Blonde is the action heroine we’ve been waiting for. Move over Bond and Bourne, Blonde is here.
Atomic Blonde review by Kat Hughes, August 2017.
Atomic Blonde is released in UK cinemas on August 7th 2017.