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‘Atomic Blonde’ Is A Cool Killer With Too Much Filler (Movie Review)

Here’s an action film that I couldn’t help but be underwhelmed by, given its potential. Atomic Blonde features Charlize Theron as a top-level spy in an action movie from David Leitch, co-director of John Wick. The film oozes with style (neon glow and an 80s new wave soundtrack) and features an array of solid actors in the supporting cast. There’s even one action sequence that will go down as one of the best action moments in recent years. Still, outside of a couple of action scenes, the film fails to engage in many ways.

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Based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton an MI6 agent who begins the film with a story to tell. That story is the rest of the movie, which is told in flashback, already taking away a level of tension when it comes to the fate of Lorraine. The plot concerns something we’ve seen many times – a list of information containing the names of undercover spies is out in the wild. Lorraine needs to secure the info, which means heading to Berlin and partnering up with James McAvoy’s David Percival. David is something of a loose cannon, but that alliance is only a means for Lorraine to get close to others and kill many in her path to neutralize the threat.

Honestly, it’s not the worst thing to have a familiar story in a spy movie. What should set Atomic Blonde apart is the style. The film is set in 1989 and does have the look of a comic book movie come to life. There is a heavy use of neon, stylized subtitles and colorful production design that attempts to make every scene look interesting in some way. As mentioned, the soundtrack is full of new wave and alternative rock singles, though I waver in enthusiasm. Most of the choices are incredibly on the nose and songs featured in many other movies (“99 Luftballons”, “Under Pressure” and “London Calling” are just some of the few familiar tunes).

All of these elements should add to what is a stock action thriller that stands out because of both the presence of Theron and great action sequences, but the film doesn’t quite service either correctly. Make no mistake, the fights featured in this movie is great, but the scenes are few and far between. The best action sequence arrives a little after the midway point in the film and it is truly astonishing, but around that sequence is a poorly paced film that feels underwhelming due to incredibly underwritten characters and a lack of stakes.

Theron does the best she can, using her established presence to make up for the lack of a character, but why isn’t there a character here? We spend a good portion of the movie trying to learn the identity of the secret organization looking to reveal the undercover spies, but almost no time understanding Lorraine. Leitch, who gave us an incredibly simple (and silly) story with John Wick was also able to make us easily care for the man. This script by Kurt Johnstad doesn’t allow for much. It is something to see Lorraine get beat up in a way that recalls the vulnerability of John McClane in the original Die Hard, but it seems to be only the actions that define Lorraine.

The rest of the cast are all playing stock types. McAvoy appears to be having fun, but this isn’t the same effort that I saw in Split. John Goodman and Toby Jones play the roles of guys sitting behind desks and discussing everything, while Eddie Marsan shows up as a significant MI6 ally in the field. These three are solid, but only because they are already good actors who bring their skills to people we don’t know anything else about. Sofia Boutella plays a naïve undercover French agent who invites herself into Lorraine’s world, and while it’s a good play by the film to keep from making a big deal out of this relationship, there is also nothing else to glean from the character.

There is something to be said about how cold and cynical the world of Atomic Blonde is, which has been covered plenty by the Bourne films. You could also enjoy the over-the-top antics that put this movie into James Bond territory. Atomic Blonde is certainly its own thing with plenty of inspiration, but what it lacks is an element that makes me care about what is going on. For an action film, there is far too much talking going on and not the talking that helps fill in who these people are or why the mission is important. People enter and exit rooms looking stylish enough, given the period, but the story ends up feeling so inconsequential that it’s hard to believe much was accomplished by the end of the film.

Action fans will at least be satisfied by some key moments in the movie, particularly the one that everyone has alluded to involving a multi-tiered action sequence that the film was likely built around to some degree. As a fan of even the most deliberately paced espionage films, such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, however, Atomic Blonde had surprisingly little excitement to offer. It wants to get by on looking as cool as possible, but it takes more than a skilled assassin and Flock of Seagulls on the soundtrack to make for the best action film. Good on Universal for putting something like this together, but let’s hope next time gives Lorraine more than just a dead boyfriend to motivate her.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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