Atomic Blonde is the first summer action film of the year that 100% delivers on the promise of the trailer. It has everything an action junkie could want in terms of fights and stunts PLUS it does all this high-level action (mostly practical) with a very specific and inventive creative vision.
Usually summer action films fall short because they try to be too broadly appealing and lose the director’s voice in the process. The majority of superhero films especially are guilty of this, but it also applies to films like Star Wars, Fast & Furious or even Jurassic World. In short, they’re bland AF. Are these films all entertaining? Of course! But they lack that singular creative vision that elevates a film from the normal disposal summer fare and into the echelons of a cult classic.
Atomic Blonde has that singular creative vision – and a fuck-ton of style to go with it. Where most films fall back into the safety and comfort of trying to please the audience, Atomic Blonde executes action with such a neon-infused, euro-trash feel that ends up being far more entertaining without that cloying “please like me!” vibe that most films at this level put off.
Synopsis: “An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.”
The performances (both in terms of acting and action) were all completely on-point. David Leitch (adapting “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston) brings three well-known spy character types into Atomic Blonde and allows the actors to inhabit them in a fresh way. Theron plays every aspect of her character’s many levels of deception with the detached forcefulness you’d expect from a seasoned spy. McAvoy oozes charm as the spy who’s gone native in Berlin. And Boutella’s Delphine Lasalle is undeniably endearing as the novice spy who is in over her head.
Atomic Blonde presents these fully realized characters without giving them an entire movie’s worth of backstory. Leitch relies on the dialogue and the actors’ performances to tell the audience everything they need to know about them – a rare treat in the action genre these days. Seeing these characters weave in and out of Atomic Blonde’s tapestry of violence and style alone makes this film worth the watch and builds out its world without a bunch of unnecessary expository dialogue.
The fight choreography and stunt sequences were all miles above anything you’ll see this summer (or probably any previous summer). For a film to infuse so much story and character into how they fight really speaks volumes about David Leitch’s ability as a visual creator. The way each character fights, kills and moves is distinctly their own and does just as much as the dialogue to move the story along and establish characterization.
Then there’s the costume design. Whoever dressed Theron and McAvoy should definitely get some kind of award or a gift certificate for unlimited back rubs (like REAL back rubs though, not the lazy ones that people just give when they really want sex). Just like with the fight choreography, every aspect of how these characters are dressed – right down to the choice of footwear – gives the audience a constant stream of information about what they’re are all about. Broughton is always methodically dressed to the nines; she is composed, calculating and meticulous. Percival’s outfits betray the put-upon slovenly nature that always leaves you wondering if he’s actually a loose cannon or if it’s all just an act.
And the fucking editing! Someone with a more nuanced understanding of editing will tackle this subject at length, but the way Ronaldsdóttir manipulates the timeline, the action and the overall tone of the story to always keep us guessing, but never leaves us frustrated was amazing. Just like Broughton, the editing was as mysterious as it was sexy (not sexy in a sexual way, but more like “the way this film knows EXACTLY what it is and embraces it!” kinda sexy).
More than anything, Atomic Blonde is cool. Like really cool. A lot of people misread “cool” as “dark, gritty, mean, detached, aloof, whatever,” but “cool” in this case means the same as the aforementioned “sexy.” Atomic Blonde has unlimited cool points because it’s not trying to be anything for anyone else. It’s not trying to please the audience or capture certain demographics; the style of this film is an unabashedly idiosyncratic vision and doesn’t allow itself to be pigeon-holed. Yes, there’s bad ass, excellently-executed John Wick-type action, but there are also a lot of non-action shots simply there to establish the tone and feel of the film.
There are these long, artistic shots of Broughton smoking or her face submerged in an ice-bath or sitting on the edge of her bed that aren’t there to explicitly make the audience cheer or cry. These shots may illicit that response, but really they’re the kind of silent, meditative moments of realism that are lost in most big-budget films. Another example is when Percival gives a completely engrossing monologue near the end of the film that is an exquisite combination of editing, performance and direction that would normally be reserved for more artsy/dramatic films.
In the end, that’s what makes Atomic Blonde one of the most engaging films of the summer – it’s not just the fact that it’s a well-executed action film, it’s the fact that it takes the genre and unrelentingly adapts it to fit Leitch’s vision. In an era when the more profitable thing to do is the reverse (forcing a director to conform their style to fit the established universe/genre) seeing a film like Atomic Blonde basically say, “like us, don’t like us, we don’t give a fuck, we’re just going to be over here making our awesome film” is ridiculously refreshing for this genre at the studio level.
A lot of people will say Atomic Blonde is a female Bond or female John Wick and to that I say, “Fuck that – those dudes WISH they could be half as cool as Atomic Blonde.”
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