While excessively violent, expertly choreographed action movies have dominated in Asian cinemas for years, they are few and far between in North America. Most Hollywood action movies tend to lean more on special effects, insane stunts and fast cars. If there are actual fight scenes, they usually consist of so many quick cuts that it seems as if the entire scene was pieced together from many different takes. Luckily, in 2014 the movie John Wick proved that an action movie featuring style over substance could not only work well here, but be extremely successful as well. Now Wick co-director (and former stuntman) David Leitch has carved out a nice little second career for himself and has brought us Atomic Blonde, which matches John Wick in nearly every way.
It’s 1989, and M16 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent to the Russian side of Germany just before the Berlin wall is about to fall. Her mission is to find out who killed a fellow agent, and meet up with a rogue agent named David Percival (James McAvoy) and find a list that exposes all double agents. From the second she gets there, she is pursued by various people – some friend, some foe. Finding who she can trust proves to be a problem, and her only definite ally is French reporter Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), and even she may not be who she seems.
While the casting of Keanu Reeves in Wick was somewhat surprising (The Matrix was years ago, and he’s a fair bit closer to retirement age), the casting of Charlize Theron was spot on. When you think of female action stars, Charlize probably winds up at the top of most people’s list. She is easily one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, but she isn’t afraid to get down and dirty for her craft. She is equally adept at pulling off serious drama and comedy, and is always the highlight of whatever project she appears in. Ever since her screen debut over 20 years ago, she has had a continuous run of phenomenal roles (and even had an Oscar thrown in along the way), but her role in Mad Max: Fury Road vaulted her into the stratosphere. She has no become the go to actress for any role that demands a strong female in the lead. I’m not sure Atomic Blonde will be the movie she is best known for, but there is no denying that she is the perfect fit for the role.
Of course, in case you haven’t guessed, by far the best parts of the movie are the fight scenes. Equal parts thrilling, exciting and outright crazy, these brutal scenes are simply intense. I wrote earlier about how most scenes of this type seem created from different takes, but here it appears as if one entire 5-10 minute fight sequence is filmed in one continuous period. The climatic fight is one of the best shot action scenes I have ever witnessed, and it may be tough for anything else to come close. Each and every gun battle, fist fight and chase is a sight to behold, and worth watching multiple times to see how graceful such brutality can be if shot by the right person. Maybe having a stuntman in charge of an action picture was a pretty good decision, huh?
It’s an unwritten rule in Hollywood that you can’t make an 80’s set movie and not feature an 80’s soundtrack featuring some of the most well known tunes from the decade. A wide variety of artists such as Nena, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, Queen and Blondie have their music featured throughout the movie. 99 Luftaloons is always a welcome addition to any soundtrack (and I bet it’s in your head now), and Atomic seems to now be the go to song for many action movies. I think this movie may be the winner of my first annual “best soundtrack of the year” award.
Another thing that is bound to get many people talking is how sexy the movie is. Obviously Theron is a complete knockout, and honestly doesn’t need much work to look as good as she does, but man the moments between her and Boutella are stunning. Their love scene is shot almost as well as the action stuff, and will probably be the one part of the movie most people will remember. Apart from this particular moment, there are still plenty of other opportunities to see Charlize looking great.
One thing I was not expecting going in to see this film is was the sheer number of twists heading our way. I was anticipating a pretty straightforward action pic, and wasn’t expecting to be be caught off guard by a surprise at any point. Without getting into spoiler territory, I will say the final twist caught me completely off guard. Usually after one of these “what the…” moment occurs, I can think back and figure out the clues that led to that big reveal. In the case of Atomic Blonde, I honestly can’t think of anything that would have led me to figure out what had just happened. It’s still bothering me now!
Many of the ads for the film seem to be comparing it to the James Bond movies – and that is not exactly correct. Sure, the main character is a British spy, but I’d say that’s where the similarities end. Atomic Blonde is definitely the spiritual successor to John Wick, and features some of the most insane fight choreography I have ever had the pleasure of watching on the big screen. Even without the amazing action sequences, Blonde would still be a great movie. Adding in the cool stuff just is icing on an already delicious cake.