Atomic Blonde (2017)

Atomic Blonde (2017) Cover

Atomic Blonde is a good movie that satisfies a very specific kind of taste, if not much else. I liked it because it addresses a craving for visceral and brutal conflict in rare form. Moreover, it does so with a style that defines its environments with color and sound. Unfortunately, a need to have the audience think that it’s clever undermines the positive.

Charlize Theron portrays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent sent to Cold War era Berlin. Theron is no stranger to physically challenging roles. In Aeon Flux she demonstrated a great aptitude for gymnastics and choreography. More recently, she made a strong turn in The Fate of the Furious earlier this year. Atomic Blonde should cement her as a powerhouse of an action star that rivals Scarlett Johansson. Additionally, she has the acting chops to match.

But Theron wasn’t alone, as the whole cast turned in top notch performances. I particularly enjoyed the work of James McAvoy, John Goodman, and Toby Jones. Charlize Theron has completely out done herself, though. She’s a thrill to watch and will stand out for years as the best part of Atomic Blonde.

The capable cast move with fluidity through a breathtaking depiction of Berlin. From a visual perspective, the graphic novel roots of Atomic Blonde are recognizable. Even when considering recent movies such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Atomic Blonde stands out as a vibrant and crisply defined portrayal of the cold war. The city itself bleeds color and personality in every shot. The heavy electronic remixes of classic 80’s tunes that highlight the soundtrack blend with the style to create a nervous sense of oppression.

I loved how this movie looked and how it felt. The action was frantic, but clear and coherent. Both aggressive and well paced, the long form fight sequences will stand out for decades as a defining moment in action cinema. While Atomic Blonde has other merits, this one will be what audiences remember most.

What makes it fall flat for me is how shallow it is. More than once I found a clever little detail in a scene, or noticed a line of dialog that felt clever, only to have a character point it out. It’s like the movie is so afraid of appearing thoughtless that it has to tell you every time it performs a trick. Atomic Blonde suffers from trying too hard rather than letting you appreciate it. This breaks the fundamental rule of film making: show, don’t tell.

This desperation is most evident in the end of the movie. The whole story culminates into a mystery of which character is on which side. I have seen this done well, but here, I already barely care by the time it starts. By about the third time a character switched sides I stopped caring at all. A good twist ending should change how the whole movie feels leading up to that moment. The twist should re-frame the information that you thought you knew, provoking you to review the events of the story. Sadly, that’s where Atomic Blonde fails.

Tragically, the sides don’t matter in the end, because they never mattered. You don’t ever feel like they’re important, even when you need to care what’s happening. This doesn’t ruin the movie, but it holds it back from being particularly good. Viewers like myself will be impacted more heavily by these flaws due to how core they are to the end, closing the experience on a sour note.

Atomic Blonde is a better than average action flick that accomplishes some amazing things. A more self confident execution and a more thoughtful ending would have made this a film to remember. You will get beautiful cinematography as well as some of the most proficiently choreographed fights set to film. If you can appreciate the brutality or crave atmospheric period pieces, Atomic Blonde is for you. If not, then it’s likely to disappoint you.

Final Verdict:Despite a tedious story, Atomic Blonde delivers an under-served market with hard-hitting action that is entertaining but shallow.