Atomic Blonde movie review: Charlize Theron's action-thriller is a bland and forgettable cocktail
When it was announced that Charlize Theron would star in an action film directed by one of the guys who made John Wick, one couldn’t be more pumped. The trailer delivered on the promise as the film seemed like an incredibly cool, atmospheric cold war thriller with insane action sequences. The film, unfortunately, is a bit of a let down.
The elements are all present — Theron as a super duper spy who can kick multiple asses simultaneously, action scenes with long takes and realistic punching and kicking, as well as moody cinematography and a ton of sex appeal. If only the story department worked a little harder to match up to the rest of the film.
It’s 1989, at the height of the Cold War — Theron plays Lorraine, an MI6 agent summoned by her boss (Toby Jones) and a mysterious CIA man (John Goodman) to debrief them on a top secret mission she was involved in a few days ago. She was sent to Berlin to kill the faceless Satchel, a rogue British agent who had been feeding information to the Russian KGB. She teams up with David (James McAvoy) for the mission but finds herself in deeper trouble than she had anticipated. Naturally the mission goes quite wrong and Lorraine spends the rest of the film thrashing shady double agents, Russian oligarchs and their henchmen.
The formulaic story structure takes away from the solid atmosphere built in the film. Anyone who has watched a few dozen thrillers with double agents will figure out the film’s reveal within a few minutes. Even John Wick was formulaic but the execution set it apart from previous films with similar plots so the clichés didn’t matter. There was also a sense of self-awareness in that movie which is sorely missed in Atomic Blonde which takes itself far too seriously. The tone is relentlessly highbrow when the material it executes is cringe-inducingly low brow, ending in a bland and forgettable cocktail.
There is a lesbian sub plot which exists for no reason but to titillate and then give Theron’s character someone to root for and ultimately save from the bad guys. Sofia Boutella who played the Mummy in the recent remake is once again wasted in a role that looks promising and badass but is dealt a really bad hand as a damsel-in-distress. Theron herself isn’t as likable as Reeves in John Wick — merely looking cool in every scene doesn’t really cut it, more so because her Furiosa character is so similarly sullen in nature.
The action choreography is of course delightful; a 10-minute one-take action sequence set on a staircase is particularly eye popping. The problem is there isn’t enough action in the film to justify a full fledged movie’s length, and the slack pacing really tests your patience levels in your wait for the next big but kicking sequence. Director David Leitch is making Deadpool 2 next — hopefully he brings his skill set from John Wick than from this movie.