Director: David Leitch
Writers: Kurt Johnstad (screenplay), Antony Johnston (based on the Oni Press graphic novel series “The Coldest City” written by)
Stars: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman
So when I discovered David Leitch, the man behind John Wick, had a new film out I was naturally intrigued and excited to give it a bash. I absolutely loved John Wick. Admittedly, that was a fairly superficial film too, but a star showing from Keanu Reeves, some insanely good action scenes and a good old fashioned tale of revenge turned what could have been an average affair into a modern cult classic. Atomic Blonde, Leitch’s latest creation, a spy thriller set in the 80s, ultimately falls flat on its face in the plot department. Despite sharing many positive characteristics with the aforementioned John Wick, it becomes needlessly convoluted, difficult to follow and was ultimately underwhelming as a result.
It’s set in 1989 Berlin, a city which at that stage is still very much divided, with murderous Russian KGB members running around with seeming immunity and killing anything that moves. Which is precisely how this film kicks off. MI6 agent, Paul Gascoigne gets himself caught and then executed in brutal fashion, which isn’t the best of news for British intelligence. Why? Well, because he was carrying a stolen list with the whereabouts of every intelligence asset they have. This of course sets alarm bells ringing and they almost immediately try to reclaim the precious item. They deploy the talents of Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a top MI6 field agent who doesn’t mess around in her feverish attempts to resolve the situation. She teams up with the eccentric, ‘feral’ Berlin station chief, David Percival (James McAvoy), a schemer of a man who appears to have issues with authority, whilst having a propensity for lying.
Now, that sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? If only it could’ve stayed that way. Everything that happens throughout the course of the film is told via an interrogation room with Lorraine reporting her escapades to her superiors. Chief of whom being Emmet Kurzfeld (John Goodman). What troubled me most is that it’s supposed to be a spy thriller and it never once had me on edge, excited for what was happening, nor was their many if any real spy elements within. James Bond female edition it’s not. The film closely follows Lorraine and her growing suspicions of Percival’s role in things. Her original mission of retrieving the list and assassinating ‘Satchel’, a double agent who’s being selling info to the Russians, soon becomes far too complicated and tedious. This isn’t helped with the introduction of Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), a French undercover agent that rather bizarrely and needlessly becomes Broughton’s lover after a mere five or ten minutes on screen.
This film doesn’t do a good enough job of giving any of its characters a backstory or implanting a reasonable logic behind their actions. Broughton’s in particular falls foul of this idiocy. She’s supposed to be undercover but regularly saunters into clubs full of KGB members waiting to kill her. Like I said, she soon suspects Percival of being the leak, pretty much has her suspicions confirmed following an ambush and yet still works with him to try and smuggle Spyglass, a Stasi defector responsible for stealing the list, into West Berlin. This ends exactly as you’d expect and it makes zero sense from a logical perspective. It does lead to the best scene in the entire film however when both Lorraine and Spyglass end up cornered within a building, and she single handedly takes out half a dozen KGB members. That scene was beautifully handled, flowed seamlessly in what looked like one continuous shot and was just tremendous on the eyes.
Most of the choreography was spectacular, as you’d expect from the man that brought you John Wick and the visuals were incredible. I was born in 89 myself, so can’t really speak for what the 80s was like, but this film seems to capture the mood of that decade perfectly, with a fantastic soundtrack and zany, neon heavy visuals. That’s certainly one area of Atomic Blonde that I can’t criticise.
I also can’t really criticise the performances. Charlize Theron was superb as Broughton. She’s an excellent actress and as Mad Max showed, she’s more than capable of excelling in physically exerting, action roles. She’s becoming a bonafide action hero. Much of the film was fixated on her character, often uncomfortably close at times and she carried the film with ease. James McAvoy didn’t have as much screen time comparatively, but the time he did have was used relatively well and he was quite humorous with his frequent bursts of passive aggression and profanity fuelled rants. There was also some darkness in his character, especially towards the end that was excellently conveyed by the Scotsman. Anybody that’s seen Split will attest to how well he pulls that particular trait off. Boutella was fine. She didn’t have much to work with and did all right. John Goodman, likewise, did ok in a relative cameo role. Every other character, including the unmemorable villain Bremovych (Roland Møller), were sideshows.
Ultimately, the film was let down by poor character development and a less than compelling story, that became murky, overly convoluted and confusing in the middle. Leitch would’ve been much better served going down the trusted John Wick route with this one. I.e. Making it just an enjoyable, simplistic action flick with slick visuals and choreography. I felt like he got caught in between doing that whilst trying to get overly smart with the plot and it just didn’t work for me. It may prove to for others though, so by all means give it a shot. Indeed, it’s been getting very mixed reviews and it certainly wasn’t a complete disaster. There is positives in there, but it feels just a little hollow under the stylish visuals in the end.