You may not know the name, but David Leitch is an action movie Director to watch out for. His role as a second unit Director spreads across many films, such as; In Hell, The Wolverine, Escape Plan, and 2011’s reboot of Conan the Barbarian. While he’s no stranger to being behind the camera, it wasn’t until 2014 where he was given the reigns to his own movie; that movie? the fan-favorite, John Wick.
While Keanu Reeves has had a history of playing fairly iconic characters like Ted “Theodore” Logan, or Neo from The Matrix films, it is pretty safe to say that John Wick might be the very role he was born to play. The film was fast, kinetic, and featured some of the most original shoot-out action scenes audiences had witnessed in years. The stylized violence and brutality of the John Wick films continues well into Atomic Blonde, with several moments of the film even taking it a bit further.
For all the excellent action on display in the movie, Atomic Blonde’s weakest link by far is its story. A top secret list that contains the names of sleeper agents, spies and the like, is out in the wild and only one person can track it down. It’s a tried and true story that seems to be the default narrative for nearly every spy thriller, and one that is genuinely done better in other films. Another movie cliche that Atomic Blonde dips into is the briefing room narrative, where the main character is being questioned about what went down and the movie is the recap of those events. There is some back and forth from the film to the interrogation that is played for laughs and it earns each and every one of those chuckles.
Charlize Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, a top-level MI6 spy. She is called in when a fellow agent is found dead and the package he was in possession of (the list) was taken from his body and the list is about to go up for sale. She then travels to Berlin to meet up with David Percival (James McAvoy), an eccentric Berlin station chief who is meant to be her contact while in Berlin. There are several twists and turns, and the advice she’s given at the start of her mission, “Trust no one.” begins to ring ever so true.
Apart from the borrowed story and back and forth to the briefing room moments in the film, the action and characters are quite engaging. Of the central cast, I can’t really think of a weak link. Charlize Theron may very well have her career defining moment here, and she certainly had put her all into training for the film. To prepare for the role, Theron worked with eight personal trainers and even sparred competitively with Keanu Reeves during his training for John Wick Chapter 2. Theron even cracked a few teeth from clenching and required surgery to get them fixed. Many of the fights in the movie is the actress and several of them are considerably brutal. There is a scene in the trailer where she covers her face and one would assume this is to transition to the stunt double, but the camera never leaves the action and upon pulling the fabric back down, it’s still Theron in the frame.
I’ve always enjoyed James McAvoy and find him to really pop in the roles he takes on. I enjoyed him as the young Professor Xavier in the X-Men films and as Wesley in Timur Bekmambetov’s 2008 film “Wanted”. His role as David Percival is really enjoyable here and one of the high points of the film. Percival is a man who has connections and information and he also is someone who is interested in only looking out for himself. While he limits himself to taking part in the much of the action during the film, he isn’t afraid to take down anyone in his way.
The supporting cast consists of just a few people as the central cast is fairly limited. There are countless gang members and people that Charlize slams into walls, down stairs or stabbing with a set of keys to the cheek, but generally they all serve their purpose. John Goodman and Toby Jones play the team on the other side of the interrogation table and both play off Charlize quite well, especially Goodman, who has been making some rather good choices in what films he’s been a part of lately.
There’s also Sofia Boutella, who you may remember from Star Trek: Beyond and most recently, 2017’s The Mummy. While her character is mostly present to reveal some information to Lorraine, she has some pretty steamy scenes opposite the leading actress. I really liked the energy that Boutella brought to the role and it’s nice to see her have some decent material to work with.
The best part of Atomic Blonde, by far, is its soundtrack. The movie is packed full of several 80’s hits like “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, and a few versions of “99 Luftballons”, which is the original version of the song. Other tracks that play throughout the movie are Father Figure, Blue Monday, I Ran (so far away), London Calling, and so much more. It’s one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time and each song is perfectly picked for its use in the movie. One last bit of sound praising is the audio used for the gun shots and the bullet hits in the apartment later in the film. When the bullets are hitting the door and walls, there is a very distinct crunch in each shot.
Atomic Blonde was a far better film that I initially was expecting and its leading star Charlize Theron really shines in the role. The few twists and turns in the movie are quite good and while some of them are fairly predictable, there was one that was pretty great and somewhat unexpected. Its use of the fall of the Berlin Wall really worked well to place this movie in a very interesting time, and its musical choices are as equally superb. The story itself is alright, but it’s one that’s been told a hundred times already.