Following the success of the first John Wick film, its directional team split to make their own way in the film industry. Chad Stahelski directed the John Wick sequel and David Leith has made Atomic Blonde, an adaptation of the graphic novel The Coldest City.
In 1989, the Berlin Wall is about to collapse and end the Cold War between East and West. Yet the prospect of peace is under threat when an MI6 agent is murdered by the KGB, who take a list of all field agents in the Soviet Union. Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to Berlin during this period of heightening tensions to find the list before it gets into the wrong hands.
Atomic Blonde is a product of its creative team and star. Charlize Theron was a producer and a driving force in getting the film made, ensuring the funding and getting Leith to direct. Made on a modest budget of $30 million Atomic Blonde is an impressive action film and Theron continues to show her action credentials.
Behind the scenes footage showed Theron had an intense training regime and it paid dividends. The highlight of the film was a sequence where Lorraine has to fight off a group of KGB agents in an East Berlin building. Lorraine starts from the top and fights her way downwards and as the fight progresses Lorraine and her KGB opponents get more injured, affecting their fighting abilities. It was a sequence that was shot like a continuous take and goes from the fights in the building to a glorious car chase.
Like John Wick the fights and car chases are second-to-none as to be a man who has worked on stunts of many Hollywood films and there is a brutality to them. Lorraine is first introduced with her having an ice bath and showing her back covered in cuts and bruises. Lots of blood is shed and bullets have a real impact; even when they missed.
Compared to the John Wick films that had a slightly tongue-in-cheek tone Atomic Blonde plays it straight. There is some humour in the form of an occasional witty line and James McAvoy having a blast as a booze filled MI6 agent that has gone native in Berlin. The fun really comes action and the style Leitch brought to the film, embracing the fashion and the music of the time (Atomic Blonde has an incredible soundtrack) and was able to mix the grey backdrop of Berlin with ’80s neon. The colours do pop from the screen.
The film does also have shades of the Bond and Bourne franchises. Lorraine is essentially a female Bond, a hard drinking, hard fighter agent who plays by their own rules and a fight in the Kino International has some similarities to the Shanghai fight in Skyfall, as well as the end of the fight with the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill. A sequence where Lorraine uses a protest as cover when helping a Stasi agent to defect to the West was similar to the Berlin protest sequence in The Bourne Supremacy.
Atomic Blonde‘s failing comes from its writing. The plot device of a list of agents possibly falling into the wrong hands is the same as the first Mission Impossible and Skyfall yet Atomic Blonde does not match those films in its plotting.
David Leitch and writer Kurt Johnstad over-complicate Atomic Blonde by introducing more characters and factions, thinking that would make their film more complex and intelligent. The end just throws twist after twist, again believing this makes the film smarter than it is especially due to the twists do not make any sense.
Atomic Blonde also has a subplot where Lorraine has a sexual relationship with a female French agent (Sofia Boutella). This seemed a case of sensationalism than it actually serving a narrative purpose. Sure, it raises some eyebrows as the pair re-enact Black Swan but it is really a scene to appeal to horny young boys who want to see two beautiful women go at it.
It is also disappointing that Boutella, a professional dancer who has proved herself in movies like Kingsman: The Secret Service and Star Trek Beyond didn’t get to have to have an action scene: she’s more than capable.
Atomic Blonde is a film that will easily appeal to action junkies and like John Wick will become a cult classic. Even if it doesn’t get the box office numbers it will be appreciated when it’s released on DVD and Blu-ray.