Atomic Blonde movie poster
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Atomic Blonde
Atomic Blonde movie poster

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Slick and stylish but not nearly as smart as director David Leitch would want you to believe, Atomic Blonde is a brutal, often vibrant spy action-thriller that crumbles under the weight of an uninteresting story that passes itself off as sophisticated, but in reality is nothing but.

Once again, because it seems to happen in just about every god-damned spy movie these days, a master list of operatives’ true identities has been stolen. MI-6 deploys its rockstar secret agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) to track it down, even though her spy skills primarily entail agreeing to meet up with people “the next evening,” drinking, sleeping with French women, and occasionally punching men in the testes. She’s paired with David Percival (James McAvoy), who immediately establishes how untrustworthy he is.

Leitch, who was an uncredited co-director on John Wick and is helming Deadpool 2, decided to go big and bold with Atomic Blonde; set in 1989 just before the Berlin Wall comes crashing down, the film pulses with atmosphere, grit, and most notably 80’s music. Soundtrack-wise, Atomic Blonde plays like a Tarantino movie on crack, only the greatest hits jukebox works best as a way to gloss over issues with the anemic script rather than to truly elevate the material.

Theron is solid in the lead as a ruthless but not emotionally devoid spy who can get out of any situation--but can and does get as bruised and blooded as John McClane. She makes for a likable enough lead, even if her character’s motivations seem to shift from one scene to the next, perhaps purposefully but more likely because the entire movie seems to have been written with a “we’re going to keep the audience guessing because we don’t know where this story is going” mindset.

Most importantly, though, Theron works as an action star, primarily because Atomic Blonde boasts some extremely good action sequences--one in particular. The movie’s action isn’t exactly like John Wick’s, but Theron is essentially a female John Wick-meet-Jason Bourne: she will punch, shoot and use whatever object is at her disposal to get her way, and Leitch delivers some great moments of her doing just that.

Ultimately, Atomic Blonde will be remembered for one terrific and brutal action sequence toward the end of the film--it’s lengthy, it’s bloody, and extremely well choreographed. It’s an action scene for the ages.

It just isn’t enough to make the movie a classic. As vivid and colorful as the movie is, as intense as some of the action scenes are, and as much as Leitch maintains momentum, Atomic Blonde simply can’t shake the confines of its shaky screenplay. There have been worse stories for sure, but Atomic Blonde feels a little ho-hum once all is said and done, more grenade than nuclear blast. The movie works on the action side but not as a spy thriller; it so desperately wants to be intriguing but doesn’t have the smarts to pull it off. McAvoy’s character, who should be the most mysterious and interesting of the bunch, is more a caricature than anything else, and Sofia Boutella, who plays a French agent and Theron’s love interest, is only in the movie so the two of them can have a sex scene together. Other notables such as John Goodman and Toby Jones lurk in the shadows, but aren’t utilized to any great effect. The film’s twist is bland, unfulfilling and largely predictable.

Atomic Blonde isn’t far from being a great film, but as it stands, it’s a mediocre one that is propped up by Leitch’s vibrant directorial style and ability to deliver quality action. It’s entertaining, and that may be enough, but it’s not a film that deserves repeat viewings.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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