'Atomic Blonde' Is More Than Just The Female Version Of 'John Wick'

By James Jay Edwards
Released: July 28, 2017
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An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

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Film Review
Set in 1989, right before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Atomic Blonde stars budding action star Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) as Lorraine Broughton, a British MI6 agent who is sent to Berlin to retrieve a list of double agents that was stolen when a fellow MI6 was murdered by a KGB thug. Once in Berlin, Lorraine and her contact, another agent named David Percival (Split's James McAvoy), navigate the criminal underworld to retrieve the list from the Russians, encountering helpful allies (Bill Skarsgard from IT), questionable marks (The Exception's Eddie Marsan), and even seductive operatives (The Mummy's Sofia Boutella), all while under the watchful eye of the British and American governments, both of whom are very anxious to get their hands on the list.

Atomic Blonde, photo courtesy Focus Features 2017.

At first glance, Atomic Blonde appears to be a feminine retelling of John Wick. While it's true that Atomic Blonde director David Leitch was also the (uncredited) director of John Wick, and Atomic Blonde has plenty of bullets-flying-and-bones-crushing action, the film is much more than just a revenge tale. Based on the graphic novel "The Coldest City" by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (300) has given Atomic Blonde the best of both worlds - there's a ton of espionage and intrigue that kills the time between the badass fight scenes, transforming the standard action flick into a rather clever (if a bit convoluted) spy thriller. Imagine if Jason Bourne had been tossed into Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - that's Atomic Blonde in a nutshell.

Like any good spy thriller, audiences have to pay attention to all of the little things in Atomic Blonde. There's a lot of sneaky stuff happening, some out in the open and some hidden away, and it's easy to get lost or confused. Luckily, even if one loses track of the double- and triple-crosses, the film still entertains with its high-octane brawl scenes. Truth be told, Atomic Blonde does go about one double-cross too long, so the surprises quickly turn to shock, and then venture right to "oh, come on!" territory. But again, we're talking about a movie where Charlize Theron stabs a guy in the neck with a stiletto high heel, so the far-fetchedness of some of the backstabbing isn't too big of an issue.

Atomic Blonde, photo courtesy Focus Features 2017.

All in all, Atomic Blonde is a fun movie. It's a little more cerebral than John Wick, but don't let that turn you off. Atomic Blonde has just the right combination of John le Carré scheming, Park Chan-Wook ultraviolence, and Guy Ritchie coolness to keep just about any audience entertained.
The soundtrack to Atomic Blonde is an essential part of the movie. Because the film is set in 1989, the musical selections are all eighties songs, but there's something new about them - they sound modern, like remixes or alternate versions. In some places, the music helps tell the story in an on-the-nose way, like when Lorraine speeds away from pursuing agents to the sounds of A Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran" playing on the radio, or when Sofia Boutella's French spy does spy things while 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry" plays on a stereo in the background. Other times, it's a bit more subtle, like how Nena's "99 Luftballons" and Falco's "Der Kommissar" represent the German's role in the Cold War (there's even a Kaleida cover of "99 Luftballons" thrown in to drive the point home). Oh, yeah, the Blondie song "Atomic" is in there as well, because of course it is. The soundtrack to Atomic Blonde is multi-dimensional; not only does it drive the plot of the movie along by establishing the era, but the songs provide symbolic lyrical depth to each scene. Plus, it'll sound great pumping from your car's stereo.

Atomic Blonde, photo courtesy Focus Features 2017.
Action Sequences
While Atomic Blonde may not be John Wick with a female protagonist, the action scenes are pretty badass. Charlize Theron shows some surprising athleticism and skill when it comes to combat, stepping it up a notch from her attitude-infused performance as Mad Max: Fury Road's Imperator Furiosa. The fight scenes are mostly captured in long shots that allow the audience to see the whole picture with slick close-ups deftly edited in for impact. The standout scene is, however, a one-take: a fight that goes from hallway, to apartment, to staircase, to speeding car, all without a single cut (and here's hoping cinematographer Jonathan Sela, who also shot John Wick for director Leitch, got hazard pay for capturing the chaotic seven minute ruckus). The fights are meticulously choreographed and painstakingly blocked, so they look like something out of an old kung-fu movie, or maybe from Park Chan-Wook's The Vengeance Trilogy. Oh, and did we mention that Charlize Theron did all of her own combat stunts? Oh yeah. Badass.

Atomic Blonde, photo courtesy Focus Features 2017.

Action, Mystery, Thriller
Release Date
July 28, 2017
MPAA Rating
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Music Score