Even Though Atomic Blonde Tries Too Hard To Be One Of The Cool Kids, It Still Works As A Small Midsummer Action Flick

Image via STX

Director: David Leitch
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, James Faulkner and Sofia Boutella
Rated: 18A
Running Time: 1 Hr, 55 Mins

Now that we’re past the heart of summer movie season, we can expect a lot of smaller titles working on smaller scales. Save for a few exceptions, late July and August are summer’s dead zone. Having said that though, there are still a few gems that can be found here and there and despite its flaws, Atomic Blonde is such a gem.

During the days before the collapse of the Wall, Berlin is a beehive of political unrest and civil strife. The once feared police are losing control fast and spies representing every intelligence agency on the planet are descending on the city in droves. Amid all of this an M16 operative is killed and a super top-secret list of covert operatives the world over is stolen. All of a sudden, every spy on the planet is in mortal danger and every government faces unimaginable political fallout.

As a response Britain sends in agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) to work with their man currently on the ground (James McAvoy). Broughton’s mission appears simple at first; find the list and get a KGB defector (Eddie Marsan) out of Berlin before the Wall comes down. But Broughton soon discovers that there’s a leak in her own organization, people are trying to kill her the second she’s on the ground, her few allies could be just as dangerous as her enemies and there are more than a few variables she didn’t count on. Pretty soon just getting out alive looks like a near impossible task.

Theron deserves plenty of credit for her preparation for this role. She is beyond cool and aloof (she’s virtually icy) but she deserves genuine kudos for the physical demands of the role. She did most of her own hand-to-hand work, most of which was highly choreographed by director David Leitch (who cut his teeth as a fight director on movies like John Wick).

There are a number of decent action beats outside of the stylized fighting and the movie does a good job of using select 80’s pop tracks to punctuate the atmosphere. James McAvoy compliments Theron well as the unpredictable wild card Percival, an agent whose dubious loyalty constantly complicates things. It was odd to see Sofia Boutella playing an uncertain, almost timid role though. After seeing her dominate scenes in Star Trek Beyond and sending men scurrying in The Mummy, it was an unusual change of pace she just couldn’t sell.

While Leitch’s prowess as an action director is on full display, so is his inability to control pacing. In between action scenes, Atomic Blonde moves pretty slowly, sometimes too slowly for its own good. It’s always trying to come across as cool and stylish as Theron (who seems colder than a corpse at times) but the harder it tries, the less convincing it feels. Some of the plot twists and reveals feel rushed, giving the entire plot a disjointed feel. Instead of having a smooth transition, Atomic Blonde’s warped story along with the film’s pacing problems gives the film a rough feel.

It feels like a roller coaster drunkenly hitting speed bumps.

In short, Atomic Blonde tries really, really hard to be cool and stylish and while it pulls it off sometimes (particularly when Theron is throwing down with multiple opponents), it can’t quite successfully achieve it. It’s still a solid action flick though, and Theron and McAvoy are worth seeing. You should also catch the action scenes on the big screen to appreciate them.

Give this a shot on half price day and you won’t be disappointed.

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