Movie review: Theron great, story just OK in ‘Atomic Blonde’
–It’s been a good summer for the ladies. Currently, the hottest comedy in theaters, and the most successful this summer, is the female-fronted “Girls Trip.” And arguably the best and most successful film of the summer is “Wonder Woman,” the realization of a long-awaited solo film for the DC Comics hero.
“Atomic Blonde” is a film that has similar ambition around doing something different with a female character front and center. The film is based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City,” and revolves around a female spy sent to find a missing list of spies in Berlin just prior to the wall coming down. Some early marketing likened it to a female James Bond, and the trailers featured the star Charlize Theron kicking a lot of butt.
While the film has an interesting period setting, a great performance from Theron and some captivating visual style, the story leaves a little to be desired. It’s an interesting film, but it might not be the revelation some people were hoping to see.
The story picks up with Agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) badly bruised and beaten in a hotel room in London. After getting herself in shape, she heads to the office where she faces an inquisition from her superiors at MI6. Her interrogation includes Eric Gray (Toby Jones) of MI6 and CIA chief Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman).
Despite her protests, Broughton begins to review the events that led her to that room, beginning 10 days earlier with the death of a fellow agent, who had been charged with recovering a list of agents that would be disastrous if it got into the wrong hands. Broughton was recruited to find out what happened, recover the list and uncover the identity of a double agent.
In Berlin, she is teamed with the local station chief, David Percival (James McAvoy), who has his own unique way of doing things. She also crosses paths with a Russian agent, Aleksander Bremovych (Roland Møller), and a French agent, Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella). Broughton has to navigate the choppy waters while the clock is ticking, and she faces threats from everywhere.
This film had one of the coolest trailers of the year. It featured a hot visual style, a kicking sound track and plenty of action. So if that’s what you went into this film looking for, then you were likely pleased with what you saw. If, however, you bought into the female James Bond hype, then this would have been a disappointment.
I read one quote that suggested Theron is great but the film around her doesn’t live up to that. I guess I agree in part. The story doesn’t live up to the performance and some of the other elements, but the film is still a lot of summer fun.
The story was adapted by Kurt Jonstad (“300”), and either the script as constructed throws in plot to string together action sequences, or that was a decision made by director David Leitch, a long-time stunt man directing his first feature with “Atomic Blonde.” However it happened, that’s the end result here.
And that makes “Atomic Blonde” a fascinating film to dissect. I thought Theron was great in the lead role, and quite enjoyed the work from McAvoy opposite her. He, in particular, seems to be having a lot of fun. The rest of the cast is OK, but they essentially don’t really have a three-dimensional character to play. That’s a problem. Also problematic is the somewhat confusing story that features a few too many twists that seem to come out of left field and a main story that’s hard to understand. That’s the bad part.
But at the same time, I thought the film had some fantastic action sequences. In addition, I liked the visual style of Leitch, particularly in the action sequences, and the way the film makes the most of its period through costumes, setting and a rocking 1980s soundtrack. That all worked for me.
In the end, I appreciated “Atomic Blonde” for what it is – a fun action film during the dog days of summer. Was it a great film? No. But it was a fun and watchable film, and the kind of movie I could see being on an endless loop for years to come late night on cable. That’s not a bad legacy for a film. And you could certainly do worse – and find worse – at the Box Office this summer.
“Atomic Blond” has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity. Enter with caution.
Three stars out of four.