Proving that Wonder Woman was not the definitive champion of change but a part of a recent equality-driven movement is David Leitch’s first credited directorial feature, Atomic Blonde.
Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is an MI6 agent who is sent on an undercover mission in Berlin in the late 1980s during the fall of the Berlin wall. She must investigate the murder of a fellow agent and retrieve a list containing the names of double agents that has been stolen from the fallen operative. With help from her contact, David Percival (James McAvoy), the pair pursue the list before the confidentiality of the information is breached entirely.
Atomic Blonde’s success comes from the casting of Theron, who after Mad Max: Fury Road was inevitably going to be reborn as an unalloyed action heroine. She brings a gravitas and prowess to the otherwise generic role that would habitually be fulfilled by a masculine counterpart – although the role may not seem challenging in relation to the rest of the actresses sterling career, it certainly will have demanded a lot physically. The stunts and fight sequences are well orchestrated thanks to her abilities, and effort is evident in her sweeping movements. One fight scene in particular, which takes place on a staircase, is excellently handled in an impressive long take, and almost provides the film with something to elevate it above being yet another generic spy thriller. The fight scenes are not all as well handled However; one scene taking place against the backdrop of Andrei Tarkovksy’s Stalker being projected onto the silver screen just feels like unnecessary juxtaposition and inclusion of a very contrasting piece of cinema.
McAvoy alongside Theron provides a solid performance. It is great to see him in almost any role he takes despite him feeling two dimensional in this limited role. You cannot help but wonder how much more invested you would be in these two characters if they were better developed, as you only route for Theron’s protagonist because she is the logical choice, not because she is necessarily compelling. The mission she is on is not particularly stimulating, and as the narrative progresses it becomes almost impossible to care about anything other than the action set-pieces that loudly invade the screen.
Atomic Blonde does not fall short of thrills, but it certainly has its faults. The soundtrack may seem cool, but the music within the film is often distracting and breaks the narrative flow frequently. The employment of music to contribute to a confident and audacious atmosphere will surely make audiences feel as if Leitch is trying too hard to provide Hollywood’s next cool hit, and with recent films like Baby Driver that perfectly exploit use of popular music to compare it to, this one does not succeed as planned.
The main issue, however, is the many twists and turns that the film takes which never shock or please; the many reveals begin to feel obvious and impoverished. In the wake of its ending you will likely feel exhausted with the directors persistent bombardment of unveiling information, which the film seems to revel in, signalling a self-declared intelligence that it simply does not possess. At times it feels like this uninspired production is aiding the evolution of the notion of the female action hero, which is why the featured sex scenes feel evermore sleazy, gratuitous and unnecessary.
Despite how Atomic Blonde has been dressed up and marketed, it is not the next John Wick. It is much more convoluted, and is no way near as much fun; the directors enormously ambitious effort to make this action film so much more than what it is is the very intention that condemns it.