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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews Atomic Blonde

August 10th, 2017 by Mark McCann Comments

Atomic Blonde (15)
Directed by: David Leitch
Starring:  Charlize Theron, James McAvoy & John Goodman
Running Time: 1hr 55mins

The crown jewel of Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service, Agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is equal parts spycraft, sensuality and savagery, willing to deploy any of her skills to stay alive on her impossible mission. Sent alone into Berlin to deliver a priceless dossier out of the destabilized city, she partners with embedded station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) to navigate her way through the deadliest game of spies.

Borrowed from the pages of Antony Johnston’s Oni Press tale, Atomic Blonde takes one of the established queens of modern day action, Charlize Theron and drops her in the secret agent mould, circa 1989, Berlin. The question isn’t whether Theron has the action chops. She’s more than proved herself as a ready and able rough-houser when the role demands, with Mad Max: Fury Road and Aeon Flux under her belt. No, here it’s a question of does the movie hold up to the hype, of which there has been no shortage preceding its release.

What sets Atomic Blonde apart from a typical spy movie are two very important things: 1. It’s a female lead. And 2. It decides on a bold, and one might say questionable move barely five minutes into the film, establishing that much of the tension designed to play out, is actually redundant.

It was at that point that this critic became almost entirely emotionally disinvested, because similar to prequel films featuring characters from an original, you know that regardless what might happen to them in the prequel, they’re going to make it out safe for the original. The director may argue that character jeopardy isn’t the point of this particular film, but I’ll return to this point later, and explain why that was a mistake.

Firstly, let’s tackle the structure of the film, post opening boo boo. It feels like an adaptation of what if the reviews are anything to go by, was much beefier source material. Kurt Johnstad is an action film writer and Director David Leitch has moved from action choreography to directing. The background experience here shows, as whatever meat the graphic novel had on its bones is stripped down to the basics of heavy-handed plot points and cool characters that are paper thin in place of any solid character work.

AB could be overlooked in these shortfalls if we consider that the style over substance approach of the director has created an incredibly aesthetically pleasing version of late 80’s Berlin, full of vintage fashion and characters designed to come off aloof and bad-ass. Then peppered this vision with really quite fantastic action sequences played out to an 80’s soundtrack that hits all the right beats. Anything more substantial however, is cut to make way for a pacier film. And the pace and action are definitely top game fare.

Given her SnowWhite co-star Chris Hemsworth’s pumping her up as a potential Bond replacement, this would seem like an ample testing ground for Theron. All the tropes are there, albeit stylised with a deliberately retro chic. Cold War spy: Check. Plot full of espionage and double crosses: Check. Alluring love interest with a hidden agenda: Check. Lots of stunts and visceral action: Check.

And Theron really is brilliant in the standout fight sequences, and solid in what slim character she has to work with. But where a slightly more rounded protagonist might have some thin layer of charisma to get us in their corner, Theron is too removed and damaged to be relatable or enviable, even.

Ironically, it’s James McAvoy’s Percival, the sort of louche degenerate he perfected in films like Filth, that brings any charisma to an otherwise superficial affair. Sadly, some shoe-horned sexist dialogue to give him bite was chucked in, in what feels like revenge for all the times Bond pinched bums in the 60’s, undermining what could have been a perfectly nasty antagonist.

The support from Eddie Marshan, Toby Jones and John Goodman is solid as you’d expect on the periphery, as surrogates for handlers like M, standard cold war assets and the like. And in the traditional Bond girl mould, Sofia Boutella is very much the sort of disposable eye candy you’d expect to end up beguiled by everyone’s favourite cold war chauvinist. She is.  The only difference here is that this Bond is a woman. The outcome is exactly the same.

Now returning to the plot point, where the majority of the films preceding tension is unplugged within the first five minutes. The writer and director might argue that the mystery, intrigue, double-crossing and element of the unknown are the true source of the AB’s appeal. They would however be wrong. Because, while AB may have loftier intentions, based on heftier source material; the truth is, it’s an intensely stylish action movie with espionage overtones, using at least two thirds framework of a Bond film.

Where it falls down with thin character and basic plot though, it makes up with great fights, stunts, soundtrack and a look that really is very cool.

So, could Charlize Theron be the next James Bond? I’d argue that she’s already played him, albeit a colder, less charismatic version with a different set of genitalia. And for what it’s worth, she did a fine job with the material at hand.

3 out of 5 Nerds

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I came here in a time machine from the 1980s. The time machine was called childhood. I'm getting back there at all costs! (I also live, love, write, lift & pet cats wherever I may find them.)

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