Review: Atomic Blonde — Sexy but complicated, with one crazy action scene

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Atomic Blonde (2017)

Movie review

What happens when you have David Leitch, the co-director of John Wick (2014) and stunt coordinator, directing an espionage action thriller with a female lead and a way more complex plot? Atomic Blonde is what you get. A rather confusing and over-sexualised movie with a couple of impressive action sequences.

Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City and screenwritten by Kurt Johnstad (300 films, Act of Valor), the film is set near the end of the Cold War in 1989 right before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. British MI6 spy Lorraine Brougton, played by the gorgeous Oscar-winner Charlize Theron (The Fate of the Furious, Mad Max: Fury Road, Monster), is sent to Berlin after the murder of an undercover agent who had the intel that could extend the Cold War. She is to work with local station chief named David Percival, fittingly portrayed by the wacky James McAvoy (Split, X-Men films, Atonement), and together they face Russia’s KGB agents to retrieve that crucial intel.

The film’s plot is certainly not as straightforward as a former hitman avenging his dog. Right from the opening scene of Atomic Blonde, the film mentions names and shows faces I could hardly remember. And then it goes on with more names, verbal exposition and introductions to plot devices — it became so unengaging but every time when I’m almost switched off, random sexy and nude scenes of Theron snaps me back to attention. The film definitely could’ve been way more interesting but the problem is that the film reveals a bit too much too early that throws all suspense out of the window. It’s also a bit pointless when all the characters already knew Broughton is a spy before she arrives in Berlin. That also goes along with a spoilery plothole that I shouldn’t talk about here.

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While Theron does show a lot of skin (and nipples) in the film, she gave a very convincing performance as the ass-kicking spy agent with attitude. McAvoy’s committed performance for his eccentric role also helps a lot in keeping the film enjoyable by being Broughton’s complete opposite. He’s hilarious, along with the cheesy dialogues with emphasised profanities that they both deliver very well. Those were probably inspired by the source material. The film’s cold and gloomy visual tone is often uplifted by classic rock, new wave and electro-pop tunes by David Bowie, Queen, Depeche Mode and Duran Duran, just to name a few, even though the outstanding lyrics don’t really match each scene they’re cued.

Since the film is directed by Leitch, fans of John Wick would be expecting a lot of martial artistry but it’s disappointingly limited until somewhere towards the end of the second act where there’s a long, 6-minute single-take tracking shot action scene that finally showcases what Leitch and Theron are truly capable of when it comes to some serious, brutal, physical action (watch Theron’s training here). That scene is one of the most impressive single-take action sequences I’ve seen. The execution of the fight choreography may not be as stylishly fluid as John Wick‘s but it certainly feels grittier and gorier. Just too bad the film doesn’t have enough of this to offer.

The final act ends with a major twist that made me go, “Huh?” I needed a minute to think back really hard before understanding the heck was going on, WHILE the film was still going on. Leitch and Johnstad’s inexperience in complex storytelling is evident and would’ve benefited from a proven co-director and co-writer’s help to polish things up. Atomic Blonde is not quite John Wick meets The Usual Suspects-ish but at least they’ve tried and it was enjoyable in parts rather than simply being a generic spy action flick.

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What I would’ve named the film: “Salt 2”

Malaysian censorship: The cut that was shown at the local press screening only had a lesbian sex scene censored. However, the distributor confirmed that the public release will be more censored. If I were to guess, I think only nudity and sex scene will be censored as the film is already rated 18.

Verdict: The unnecessary nudity and that one long action sequence made it worthwhile for me. Without them, it’s a heavy-plotted Cold War-spy movie with so-so action here and there.

Rating: 3 / 5

Atomic Blonde movie poster malaysiaBased on: “The Coldest City” graphic novel by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart

Genre: Spy action thriller
Running Time: 115 minutes
Director: David Leitch
Screenwriter: Kurt Johnstad
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Sofia Boutella

Malaysia Release Date: 27 July 2017
Rated: 18
Local Distributor: TGV Pictures
Production: Denver and Delilah Productions, Closed on Mondays Entertainment, 87Eleven

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