Atomic Blonde Review: Atomic Bland
The buzz surrounding Atomic Blonde has been amazingly high since it premiered at the 2017 SXSW Festival earlier this year. Critics and fans alike were praising it as the “female John Wick,” which seems to be the gold standard in today’s overpopulated action genre. What Wick does so well is not just the wonderfully realized and executed action scenes being both stylistic and realistic, it also has a central story that keeps the audience’s investment. David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde tries very hard to amount to that level, which unfortunately gets lost somewhere in the middle of genuine action choreography and just plain boredom.
Atomic Blonde follows Lorraine (Charlize Theron) who is an undercover MI6 agent at the end of the Cold War. Her job is to investigate the murder of a former agent, who Lorraine had some sort of past with. In doing so, she meets up with a fellow agent, David (James McAvoy), and the two travel throughout Berlin to retrieve a stolen list of double agents, which is of course, not a good thing.
First of all, the best way to go into Atomic Blonde is to not think you’ll be getting another John Wick movie. The marketing for this film has been advertised as a white-knuckle, rated-R, action flick. While Atomic Blonde briefly reaches those moments, they are way too few and far between to make this simply an “action” movie. It’s much more of a spy drama, with glimpses of action in between. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if the spy drama aspect was an engaging story line, or halfway decent script. However, that is not the case here.
The dialogue plays out dull with every action movie twist or cliché line, which highlights just how bad this script is. It’s a shame too, because these actors are far more capable than Leitch needed for this project. There’s no chemistry anywhere across the board. This feels like the first time table read, instead of a final cut of a feature length movie. Every “twist” you can see coming a mile away, which leaves no surprises (except for one) throughout this one-note spy thriller, that certainly thinks it’s better than it is.It’s almost a cliche at this point to say that Charlize Theron is terrific in a film, but she brings her all to Atomic Blonde. Theron’s performance is quite physical, nailing the action scenes impeccably. I’m not exactly sure how many stunts Theron did herself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did all of them. She sells the action scenes both physically and emotionally, clearly using fully realized hand-to-hand combat, that always has a sense of genuineness to them. You can always see Theron’s face in the action, with a mesmerizing seven-minute stairway sequence that’ll be sure to break YouTube once it finds its way online.
This also brings me to by biggest fault with Atomic Blonde: the damn marketing. Time and time again, movie trailers and clips show the best parts of the film, with the attempt to persuade audiences to see the movie on the big screen. Hell, even the poster says “everyone’s been taking about the stairwell scene.” So naturally, you are waiting for THAT scene, as soon as the stylized opening credits appear onscreen to a new version of “Blue Monday.” This will be sure to keep audiences waiting until the scene in question drops, roughly 90 minutes into the film.
The sequence itself is impressive and highly entertaining. There is no music playing in the background, and Leitch shoots it in a way to make it seem like it’s one continuous tracking shot. It’s a brilliant scene, with bones crushing, guns and other objects penetrating skin. The scene also doesn’t shy away from showcasing our protagonist’s face, giving the impressive sequence a level of realism and dedication that can’t be ignored. I only wish that the entire 155 minutes played like this scene, because every other action scene ranges from dull, to unimpressive, no matter how terrific the 80s soundtrack is that plays throughout the movie.
Atomic Blonde isn’t a terrible movie per se, it’s just a painfully forgettable one. The ending sets up for a sequel, and if it makes enough money at the box office – which I’m sure it will – we can only hope that a more seasoned director takes the helm, and learns from the faults of this first entry. There is an exciting world to be explored in Atomic Blonde, so I wouldn’t mind coming back for a sequel, if it’s done properly.
Atomic Blonde opens on July 28th, 2017