Armed with a constant blue-gray aesthetic, Atomic Blonde lacks the adrenaline energy of a John Wick despite sharing a director, so much so that the intricately staged hand-to-hand combat sequences can sometimes come off as dreary and mechanical.
This said, select sequences from this batch are the best parts of the film. In the absence of these, the energy of the film can only be found in the film’s soundtrack, which buzzes with ’80s staples in-between Charlize Theron’s Lorraine Broughton retelling her espionage story to her stuffy higher ups.
This story takes place in 1989 at the cusp of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Lorraine is tasked with recovering a list of important names (what people in the biz call a MacGuffin) with the help of the crass agent David Percival (James McAvoy).
The espionage thread that the film weaves seems intricate and complicated, but this thread is simply dressing up a rather conventional thriller story. The mystery of who is The Satchel doesn’t seem to be of any real import to Lorraine and her story until the very end. Not to mention that this isn’t even the film’s final twist, as this is saved for something that seems entirely arbitrary.
The narrative of Atomic Blonde may have its issues, but overall it is a competent and acceptable excuse to throw together a handful of riveting action sequences.
It is the tone that sinks the fun that this film should have. John Wick may be gritty with a high body count, but it is a budding cult favorite because it knows what it is. It focuses on the craft of stunt coordination as a means of delivering a fun, self-aware film.
Atomic Blonde might be taking itself too seriously. Theron kills it with the stunts that she is involved in, and her cold exterior leaves something under the surface worth exploring (even though the film doesn’t seem to want to explore this interior). And McAvoy is smarmy and charismatic as the male lead.
But their characters and the film as a whole is cold and cynical. It is hard to root for Theron’s Lorraine when we are questioning what her motivations are in the first place, and the lack of emotion in the character keeps us from looking past this pitfall.
Atomic Blonde has some life in its soundtrack and its action sequences. But the film denies us access to its protagonist and weaves a story that actively hides what is most interesting.
Atomic Blonde: C+
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)