What a shame that audiences, and males from the age of 17-100 in general, would rather play tiddly-winks and video-games or whatever else it is that they’re doing than go out and support something as ridiculously cool and sleek as Atomic Blonde. This movie both IS and ISN’T what they’ve been selling in the propulsive ads. YES: You get extra-sexy Charlize Theron locking-lips with other gorgeous women and shooting lots of people in the face. BUT: You also get a plot that’s more in line with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than a routine Bond/Bourne mission (Atomic Blonde positively trounces Spectre, and I found it even more enjoyable than Jason Bourne). All of this should excite anyone who enjoys watching R-rated action films and beautiful women fooling around with other beautiful women. In all honesty, the action genre has sort of been leading up to this gigantic piece of cool-blue silliness, and because the director David Leitch (John Wick, the upcoming Deadpool 2) and writer Kurt Johnstad (300, Act of Valor) have such an uncommonly game star in Theron, who was seemingly up for anything, the entire film takes on both a satirical bent and a traditional explosion of slickly choreographed fighting sequences that have been shot and cut for maximum visceral impact. The film is based on the 2012 graphic novel by Sam Hart and Antony Johnston, and there’s certainly a neo-superhero vibe to the entire piece, just as you’d find in the John Wick films and The Raid and its unrelentingly insane sequel.
We’ve seen this plot before (a list of undercover operatives goes missing and bodies start dropping and nobody can be trusted) but it doesn’t matter, because the scenery is so wild, the atmosphere is so sexed-up, and the action is totally insane, especially during one particular set-piece, which shouldn’t be totally spoiled, except to say that it’s the best of its type in a very long time, and the most violent piece of action scenery from Hollywood in many years, coming close to certain parts of The Raid 2. Everyone in the having-fun-and-collecting-a-paycheck supporting cast are all aces, especially James McAvoy as Theron’s sketchy contact, John Goodman as an FBI agent, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones as Theron’s handler, and the gorgeous Sofia Boutella as Theron’s love interest. The convoluted but still coherent plot is more dense than you’d expect, but it essentially serves as a clothes-hanger for the action-sequences. But because all of it has been done seemingly for real, and because Theron seems so committed (she produced and developed the project for five years), the entire piece feels less cynical than one might imagine. When I first heard of this film, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – an ultra-violent spy thriller with Charlize Theron kissing girls on the side? And yes, while the heterosexual gaze is quite in evidence during this film, there’s something both progressive and illuminating about its wants and desires as a piece of wide-audience entertainment. But I guess it scared too many people off, as the box-office results haven’t been too impressive, despite solid critical support.
Aesthetically, the film is lightning-quick and exceedingly photogenic, with all department heads getting a chance to show off in a big way and yet on a somewhat limited budget (reports indicate that $30 million was spent bringing this tale to life). Jonathan Sela’s smart widescreen lensing opts for long-takes and spatially-aware wide-shots which allow the viewer to understand where all of the various threats are coming from, while also creating a balletic-mystique that harkened back to some of the bravura camerawork found in John Woo’s Hard Boiled. Sela has also shot Transformers: The Last Knight, John Wick, and Law Abiding Citizen, and will be calling the shots from behind the camera on Deadpool 2. The nearly 10-minute one-take fight must be seen to be believed. The pulsating musical score by Tyler Bates (Watchmen, Guardians of the Galaxy) amps up the tension, especially in tandem with the razor-sharp editing by Elisabet Ronaldsdottir (John Wick, Contraband), who opts for clean-cutting instead of an overly-frenetic approach to the mise-en-scene. The cold-war setting also gives the film a chilly, silvery-blue visual palette, with production designer David Scheunemann (working again with Leitch on Deadpool 2, art director on Inglorious Basterds and Cloud Atlas) giving the film a crumbling texture which makes thematic sense within the time period. It’s a fabulously designed movie, and if you’re looking for some fantastic summer movie fun, look no further than Atomic Blonde.