Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella
Director: David Leitch
Running Time: 115 mins
Atomic Blonde is an American film about a MI6 agent who is sent to Berlin in the dying days of the Cold War to uncover a list of secret agents that went missing after a fellow operative was murdered in the city.
Although it doesn’t quite manage it straight away, Atomic Blonde is (eventually) an absolute barrel of fun. Despite struggling early on with a slightly try-hard and overly serious atmosphere, the film ultimately bursts into life with massively entertaining action, great twists, incredible cinematography and a whole host of fantastic performances, ultimately making for the action-thriller extravaganza that the film should have been all along.
But we’ve got to go things chronologically, so we’ll unfortunately have to start on the downside. As brilliant a setting as Berlin weeks before the wall came down is, the film goes a little overboard in trying to make the sumptuous 80s experience.
Yes, the visuals are excellent, and that pulsating disco vibe really shines through in the same way David Leitch managed with the brilliant John Wick. However, when it comes to placing you firmly in the time period, Leitch unfortunately goes a little too far, ultimately proving frustrating and a little blatant when showing off late 80s tropes wherever possible.
The biggest offence is definitely the soundtrack. Although the music chosen for the movie is amazing, it’s not weaved that well into the story, and when we get no more than 15 seconds or so of some hit of the decade or other before a large crash brings it to an abrupt end (on several occasions), things comes off as far more manufactured than an organic use of the music of the era to reinforce the time period.
What’s more is that the movie doesn’t really know how to have fun in its first half. Again, the visuals are slick and cool enough to bring some life to the story, but the film as a whole takes itself far too seriously early on, with too much emphasis on Charlize Theron’s calculated and cool persona to make her genuinely convincing or even that likable, as well as getting a little too bogged down in the nitty-gritty of an espionage thriller.
Fortunately, things turn completely around about halfway through the movie, with a spectacular action sequence that involves one of the most entertaining punchups you’ll ever see. With newly raised stakes, no pushy 80s backing music, and brutally violent fighting all shot in one beautifully long take (plus the film’s first bit of humour), the entire movie bursts into life and sets up for an amazing run to the finish line.
From then on, everything becomes so much more fun, as we see Theron’s character occasionally on the back foot as she comes up against all manner of villains, whilst the story goes overboard into cramming as many brilliant Cold War spy movie tropes in as possible, with double double double agents all trying to do the double on some other double agent.
There’s also a load more action in the film’s final act, and with the fantastically energetic performances from Theron, James McAvoy and Sofia Boutella, you can’t help but have huge fun with the brilliantly exciting and humourful finale to the film.
And although I feel as if the movie’s first half lets it all down a little bit, I have to say that what does work is the film’s narrative structure. Not only does it play out following our main hero on her mission in Berlin, but we get a post-mortem discussion from her with some rather angry-looking MI6 and CIA agents, meaning that you’ve always go that intrigue as to what happened or went wrong to cause this meeting from the start.
Overall, I did enjoy Atomic Blonde. Yes, its opening half isn’t exceptional, but there’s still a well-written screenplay and excellent visuals to enjoy throughout. However, once it all bursts into life halfway through, you’ll be hard pressed not to have brilliant fun with and endlessly action-packed and almost tounge-in-cheek espionage thriller as we dash to the finish, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.4.