Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman
Director: David Leitch
Screenplay: Kurt Johnstad, Antony Johnston
Action/Mystery/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: July 28, 2017
Well Scott, it looks like her cover is blown: Debbie Harry was a double agent in the late 1980s.
Wrong “blondie”, Greg. This one is quite nuclear. Let’s recap.
We’re introduced to blonde bombshell Lorraine Broughton. She’s a top spy for MI6 in 1989 and about as hot as Charlize Theron. She’s on a mission: it seems someone has stolen a list of all the secret agents in the Soviet Union and Lorraine has to get them before the KGB does and expose the double agent Satchel to boot.
Upon arrival in Berlin, Lorraine is ambushed by KGB agents but manages to kill them and escape. She meets her main contact in Berlin, David Percival (James McAvoy) who sets her up to be ambushed at a dead agent’s apartment. She survives this incident and then has a brief romantic fling with a French agent there named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella).
Atomic Blonde is one drawn-out fight scene after another held together loosely by bits of plot. And when I say “bits” I’m not kidding. This is the thinnest plot I’ve ever seen in an action film. Basically, there’s a list of agents (haven’t we seen this a dozen times? Think Mission Impossible) that have to be recovered. But this time, some guy has memorized the list (haven’t we seen this before? Think Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) and our hero needs to get him from East Berlin to West Berlin (Think Bridge of Spies). The plot wasn’t enough to keep me interested, and unless you enjoy seeing people beating each other to a pulp, you won’t be interested either.
Greg, I was thinking the same thing, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the plot of this film was thin. The plot was just fine. I’d say the movie is a satisfying albeit conventional spy thriller with a nice surprise twist at the end. You’re right that this film is saturated with bloody, bone-crunching, hand-to-hand combat scenes. These fight scenes are as gripping and painfully realistic as we’ve ever seen in the movies. While Charlize Theron’s face and fists are bruised and battered, the rest of her body remains softly feminine and unbruised. We should see welts the size of Mount Rushmore on her.
My wife and I have recently been watching Alfred Hitchcock movies from the 1950s and 60s, and we’re struck by Hitchcock’s emphasis on story and dialogue and by the paucity of violence. Movies today seem to have forgotten that story is the main dish and that action and violence are mere side dishes designed to augment the main entree. Nowadays the chase scenes and fisticuffs are not only the main dish, they seem to take up the entire plate. Atomic Blonde has strong enough story elements that we don’t need to be bombarded with mayhem from start to finish.
Well, Scott, whether we agree on the quality of the story, we’re in agreement on a trend we are seeing in major motion pictures. Filmmakers are opting for spectacle in favor of story. Atomic Blonde is not designed as a thoughtful, emotional experience. It’s more of a visual feast. We see this in other films as well. The Transformers franchise is a good example. The movie theater is becoming a place to see big films filled with visuals that don’t impress on the small screen. Meanwhile, stories with long story lines and deep characters are finding a home on television. The movie theater is, more and more, becoming an amusement park ride.
There is certainly a hero’s journey worth mentioning, although it lacks a few key elements. Lorraine is sent to Berlin and discovers it to be a hornet’s nest. She is tested in many big ways, and also finds a key love interest. She encounters villains and relies on implicit mentors from the past who trained her well in the art of lethal killing and self-defense. I don’t see much of a transformation here, as the main point of the film is to offer a blood-splattered spy story. Lorraine remains untransformed, a superhero who has superheroic powers from start to finish.
Atomic Blonde is entertainment for those who enjoy fisticuffs. The soundtrack was good if you’re a fan of 80’s new wave (which I am). But, after enjoying the synchrony between song and story in Baby Driver, this film’s use of music is much more uncoordinated background noise than soundtrack. I give Atomic Blonde 2 out of 5 Reels.
As a hero, Lorraine does alright. She’s smart and strong and easy to look at. But she doesn’t reveal many other redeeming qualities. I give her 2 out of 5 Heroes. And as you point out, there isn’t much in the way of transformation for anyone in this film. I can only muster 2 Deltas out of 5.
I pretty much agree with you, Greg, except that I found that amidst all the mayhem and bloodshed in Atomic Blonde, there was a decent story to sink one’s teeth into. Charlize Theron shines in this ass-kicking role, and I liked the surprise ending quite a bit. I award this film 3 Reels out of 5.
I’ve already mentioned the deficits in the hero’s journey and I’d also like to add one other caveat on the topic of gender and heroism. Although Atomic Blonde is to be commended for featuring a woman in a strong heroic role, it is also true that it is a hyper-masculine role. You may recall that a strength of Wonder Woman was its emphasis on androgenous heroic leadership, i.e., heroism that contains elements of both agency (masculinity) and communality (femininity). Not to get on my soap box, but this world needs softer, gentler heroism from both its male and female protagonists. And yes, I admit that it’s probably unfair of me to point this out in the context of a film with a woman hero, as it is certainly a criticism of almost all movies, not just this one.
So regarding my hero rating, I’ll give Lorraine 3 Hero points out of 5. We both acknowledge that transformation was not the point of the story here, and so I’ll agree with you, Greg, that all these main characters deserve is a measly 2 transformative Deltas out of 5.