Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: David Leitch
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Jonathan Sela
WRITER: Kurt Johnstad
MUSIC: Tyler Bates
“Atomic Blonde” is an action spy thriller based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. The movie stars Charlize Theron as a sexy British spy named Lorraine Broughton and she is assigned to finish a mission by a fallen colleague. This leads her to Berlin where she teams up with James McAvoy and she finds herself in the middle of a dangerous game of spy vs. spy during the end of the Cold War in 1989.
This movie has a lot going for it, but for some reason, it just didn’t work for me by the time the credits rolled. First off, let me go ahead and mention what I did like about the flick. The first is the stylish tone of the movie that perfectly captures its 1989 setting. The opening, for example, explains what’s going on in history during that time before graffiti suddenly appears telling us that this is not that story.
Beyond the cool style of the movie is the soundtrack, featuring classic ‘80s songs. Some are the original tracks while others are German versions of the songs, once again reminding us about where we are. The music is pitch perfect and nothing feels out of place.
Then, there is the action that is shot beautifully by director David Leitch and his cinematographer Jonathan Sela. Leitch’s well choreographed action sequences doesn’t really come as a surprise and you can tell that this came from one half of the directing team that brought us “John Wick”. In other words, I was perfectly happy with the fact that Leitch has been tapped to direct “Deadpool 2”.
Finally, the performances are fantastic. Theron is a solid actress and a hell of an action star as she kicks butt through the entire piece. McAvoy also turns in yet another solid performance in his career as Berlin’s point man for the MI6 named David Percival. Beyond our two leads, all of the supporting characters give solid performances, particularly Sofia Boutella as an inexperienced French undercover agent named Delphine Lasalle.
So, with all that the movie has going for it, why the hell did it not work for me? I had to think about this for a moment while the dust settled after the movie was over. In the end, I came to three conclusions. One of them is only a minor problem, the second is a slightly bigger problem, and the third problem is the one that probably killed the film for me the most.
First, the minor problem. The movie is told from Lorraine’s point-of-view as she is being interrogated post-mission. This narrative device takes away any suspense that anything will happen to our protagonist. When I see a bunch of goons heading her way, I automatically know that she will survive because she is already telling the story in the future.
Someone might tell me that I was probably going in expecting Theron to win. This is true, but that’s my expectations. Expectations can be turned on their heads, but if the film flat out tells me that she will survive, the suspense is cut down significantly.
The second problem is that the movie is insanely predictable. The movie tries to be clever and attempts to take the plot in different directions in order to confuse the audience. Unfortunately, I was not surprised at all with where the story ended up going.
Finally, my biggest problem with the movie is the plot itself. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. There’s a super secret list with every name of every secret agent operating in the world and if our hero doesn’t get this list back, it’ll be bad for everyone. If you have heard that one before, then it’s probably because you’ve watched at least one of the several other spy films with the same damn plot device.
This is a movie that I really wanted to like and I can even understand why others will ultimately like it. The performances, the action, the soundtrack, and even the frantic 1980s setting feels good. For me, though, the movie could not escape its generic and boring plot line.