As a fan of the “John Wick” films, I found “Atomic Blonde” to be a daring lesson on why substance can bring down the style in any film.
The film takes place a few days before the end of the Cold War in Berlin, Germany. Charlize Theron plays the titular secret British agent who must find some detrimental information that her murdered ex-lover uncovered.
Of course, she must also deal with corrupted agents and law enforcement looking to take that information for themselves.
Not a bad set-up, but the execution from the beginning was a terrible decision.
Having John Goodman and Toby Jones in an interrogation room with Theron recounting the previous events of the entire film was a bad call for a film like this.
Seeing the montage of wounds that Theron took after what would later be incredible action scenes was interesting, but having much of the dialogue drone on about procedural rules, intel banter and legal jargon was not a great way of upping the tension.
This kind of narrative has been done to death, and yet there was nothing interesting coming out of the acting or camerawork, and it really affected the pacing.
Fortunately, once the actual flashback kicked in, audiences got a thrill ride of action that was inventive, intense, and performed incredibly by Theron.
From this point on, the audience is also introduced by another unconventional agent that is played by Jame McAvoy.
McAvoy may have stolen the show as a snarky but manipulative spy, but the chemistry between Theron and his own presence in the movie was limited.
All the other characters introduced also felt rushed and one-note. In fact, most of them end up serving as plot devices that get thrown out later in the story.
As witty and energetic Theron may be, she is only carrying this film because no one else really is there. Her personality is that of a spy who is cold-hearted with a soft side, but that emotional commitment never felt nuanced, and can be a bit predictable.
Spy films tend to have the idea of betrayal and secrets, yet “Atomic Blonde” decided the best way to make these conventions different is by telling everyone all the secrets with almost no payoff to it.
As a viewer, knowing everything really didn’t invest me in finding out what would happen next, especially when most of the vague characters given aren’t too fun to watch aside from Theron and McAvoy.
These gaps between the narrative and action are very wide as a result, but the action that is there is endearing and gives out more personality to Theron’s performance than the slow moments where nothing is happening.
One side note though: putting 80s’ European pop music to give off that Cold War-spy vibe is great, but having it drown out in every scene can really take away a lot of that tension.
As much fun as there is to be had in “Atomic Blonde,” it is a good action film that is marred by a boring narrative with very few moments of emotion that were more prominent in David Leitch’s previous work.