2017, Action Movies, Atmospheric Movies, Bad Girls, Based on a Graphic Novel, Charlize Theron, Cinema Knife Fights, Espionage, Government Agents, Guns, Highly Stylized Films, Killers, Kung Fu!, Leading Ladies, Murder!, Oppressive Societies, Secret Agents, Secret Codes, Sexy Stars, Thrillers, VIOLENCE!, Women Fight Back 0
Cinema Knife Fight Presents:
ATOMIC BLONDE (2017)
By L.L. Soares & Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: A crummy apartment in East Berlin in 1989. Out of the window, you can see the heavily-graffitied Berlin Wall. L.L. SOARES is adding dry ice to a fog machine in the middle of the room, when MICHAEL ARRUDA enters)
MA: What are you doing? With all this fog, I can’t see a thing.
LS: It’s called symbolism, meant to represent Charlize Theron in the new movie ATOMIC BLONDE (2017).
MA: I see…Actually, I don’t. What are you talking about?
LS: Dry ice. It’s so cool it burns your hands if you handle it. It’s so cool, it’s hot.
MA: Well, technically, it’s not hot. Those burns you’d get are freezer burns.
MA: Are you going to play with that stuff all day or are we going to review today’s movie?
LS: Don’t knock the dry ice. It might come in handy. But sure, we can do our review now. I’ll begin.
ATOMIC BLONDE is the new movie that claims that Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton is “a female James Bond,” but frankly I thought she was cooler than James Bond ever was.
MA: No. Stop right there. Cooler than James Bond ever was? Sorry, buddy, but you need to go back and rewatch the original Sean Connery Bond films. Charlize Theron as Lorrain Broughton is about as cool as Pierce Brosnan was as Bond, which is to say solid but unremarkable.
LS: I’ll pass on rewatching old Bond movies. I’m not a fan, and that includes your beloved Mr. Connery, too. In fact, I think a lot of those Connery movies were rather dull story-wise. So yeah, I think Theron is way cooler.
MA: That remark leaves me shaken, but not stirred.
LS: Anyway, ATOMIC BLONDE begins in East Berlin, days away from the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Spy James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) is murdered by KGB agent Yuri Bahtkin (Johannes Johannesson, also in HBO’s GAME OF THRONES), who removes the expensive watch from Gasciogne’s corpse. The watch contains a list of all M16 agents, presumably on microfilm, and Bahtkin plans to sell it to the highest bidder.
MA: Not exactly the most original plot point, but continue.
LS: So, M16, the British Secret Service, sends special agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) to retrieve it. Her superiors are Eric Gray (Toby Jones, also Truman Capote in INFAMOUS, 2006, Claudius Templesmith in THE HUNGER GAMES movies, and in such films as BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, 2012, and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, 2014)) and a boss named only “C” (James Faulkner, also in DOWNTON ABBEY, 2014, DA VINCI’S DEMONS, 2013-2015, and GAME OF THRONES). When the movie opens, a badly-bruised Broughton gets dressed for a debriefing. Gray is doing the interrogating, and has asked CIA official Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman, most recently in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, 2016, and KONG: SKULL ISLAND, 2017) to sit in. Behind a two-way glass, “C” looks on. The rest of the movie is told in flashbacks, as Broughton tells the men about her mission in Berlin.
MA: I’m not the biggest fan of flashbacks when it comes to telling a story, and I can’t say that I was nuts about it here. It didn’t really add much.
LS: I agree. I’m not a big flashbacks guy, either. But it didn’t bother me that much here.
She arrives in West Berlin, allegedly to retrieve Gasciogne’s body to bring it back home to England but because of a clerical error, she has to stick around for a week, which is exactly what she wants, giving her time to track down that missing list of agents.
Her connection in Berlin is fellow spy David Percival (James McAvoy, most recently Professor Charles Xavier in several X-MEN movies, the title character in 2015’s VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN, and amazing in M. Night Shyamalan’s SPLIT, 2016 ). He seems shady from the get-go, although we’re not sure if this is just because he’s so good at blending in with the Berliners.
While trying to get to the bottom of Gasciogne’s murder, she also comes into contact with a French agent, Delphine LaSalle (Sofia Boutella, also in KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, 2014, Jaylah in STAR TREK BEYOND, 2016, and most recently the title character in THE MUMMY, 2017), and they have a brief, but passionate affair.
There’s also an East German defector, code-named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan, also in V FOR VENDETTA, 2005, Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES movies, and on television as Mr. Norrell in the BBC series JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL, 2015, and the Showtime series RAY DONOVAN, 2013-2017) who provided the “list” originally. M16 has agreed to get him and his family out of East Berlin, but that’s easier said than done.
There’s also a KGB officer named Aleksander Bremovych (Roland Moller, also in DARKLAND, 2017, and UNDERCOVER, 2016) who is watching their every move, and Broughton has her own personal connection, Merkel (Bill Skarsgard, also Roman Godfrey on the Netflix series HEMLOCK GROVE, 2013-2015, and Pennywise in the upcoming IT, 2017) in East Berlin to provide some useful backup. On top of everything else, before her mission, she’s told to “trust no one” since there’s a double agent mixed up in all this, and it could be any of the characters above.
(The front door bursts open and KGB agents rush into the room)
KGB AGENT #1: Why is it so foggy in here?
KGB AGENT #2: I can’t see anything.
(LS and MA take out guns and eliminate the agents quickly)
LS: See, I told you the dry ice would come in handy.
MA: That was fun.
LS: Back to our review. The plot is interesting, but secondary, because the real point of the movie is for Charlize Theron to kick a lot of bad guy ass. That said, it never really feels as dumb or superficial as most action movies. This is mainly due to the fact that Theron is so damned charismatic. The camera adores her. She is the very epitome of a “cool blonde,” with her ice cold demeanor and the way she talks is almost a seductive whisper. But there are moments, like her love scenes with Boutella, that sizzle with passion.
MA: I have to disagree here. Normally, I enjoy Theron a lot, but I thought she was miscast here. I didn’t find her the epitome of a “cool blonde” here at all, nor did I think the camera adored her. I thought her performance was superficial at best, and the biggest knock on it is I didn’t find her all that believable in the role. When she’s kicking the stuffing out of the KGB thugs, these scenes just didn’t ring true for me. Granted, she’s as beautiful as ever, but as the unstoppable indefatigable Lorraine Broughton, I wasn’t buying it. And for me, this was a major reason why I didn’t love ATOMIC BLONDE.
LS: Really? Well, I completely disagree. I really enjoyed ATOMIC BLONDE a lot. Theron is mesmerizing onscreen, and, after such physical roles in movies like AEON FLUX (2005), PROMETHEUS (2012), and especially MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015), she proved she is more than capable of portraying an action hero.
MA: I enjoyed Theron much more in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Her performance in that movie was rugged and convincing. Here, she’s going through the motions but there’s something missing, and that something is a director who’s setting the pace behind the camera. I wasn’t all that impressed with first-time director David Leitch.
LS: I thought he did a fine job. In fact, if anything, Broughton seems more like a female John Wick than James Bond, and this is mostly due to the fact that it is directed by David Leitch, making his solo directing debut after co-directing JOHN WICK (2014) with Chad Stahelski. Between the WICK connection, and the fact that Leitch was previously a stunt man (with 82 movie credits), it’s clear why the fight scenes in ATOMIC BLONDE are so strenuous and well done. Leitch knows how to choreograph violence wonderfully (he will also be directing DEADPOOL 2, due out in 2018).
MA: I was less impressed with the fight scenes than you. The best sequence in the film is the intense fight scene between Lorraine and a bunch of KGB baddies when she’s trying to whisk Spyglass out of East Berlin. That fight was intense. But the rest I thought were just okay.
I was also disappointed by the look of this film. It’s based on the graphic novel series “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, and as such, I expected this one to be a visual tour de force, but it’s not. Director Leitch starts out strong with some colorful opening credits, but after that there wasn’t a lot there to capture that graphic novel feel. It seemed as if he couldn’t make up his mind whether or not he wanted to film a graphic novel interpretation or a Cold War thriller. The film has whispers of both, but neither one jumps to the forefront.
I didn’t think it was paced all that well either. The film definitely gets better as it moves along, and I enjoyed the second half much more than the first half.
(BORIS BADUNOV and NATASHA FATALE from THE ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE SHOW enter the apartment)
BORIS: Natasha, I don’t see Moose or Squirrel anywhere in here.
NATASHA: It’s so foggy, Boris. We can’t see a thing.
BORIS: I hear someone moving. Let’s get out of here, comrade.
NATASHA: Da, Boris. Let’s vamoose.
LS: Who was that? They left before we could welcome them.
MA: That might be for the best.
LS: Anyway, the supporting cast is very good, beginning with character actors who always nail it, like Goodman and Jones. John Goodman has been in an awful lot of movies lately (as has Jones), which is great, because I think he might be the best character actor working in movies today.
MA: This I agree with. Both John Goodman and Toby Jones nail their supporting roles, so both these guys help this movie a bit.
LS: It’s also good to see Marsan and Skarsgard here. McAvoy is suitably shifty as Percival, and Boutella is good as Delphine.
MA: Yes, I enjoyed Eddie Marsan as Spyglass. He was also very good earlier this year playing a talent agent in THEIR FINEST (2017), a superior period piece comedy drama about the making of a propaganda movie about Dunkirk in World War II England.
I also especially liked Bill Skarsgard as Merkel. I thought he really stood out. He’s the son of actor Stellan Skarsgard.
James McAvoy is solid as Percival, but it’s not anything I haven’t seen him do before. In fact, he looked like he just walked off the set of SPLIT, put on a warm coat, and entered the action in East Berlin. Sofia Boutella is okay as well, and she’s better here than she was in THE MUMMY, but she was still best as the alien Jaylah in STAR TREK BEYOND (2016).
LS: But this is Theron’s movie from beginning to end, and she doesn’t disappoint. The epitome of cool, yet able to bring the heat when she wants, her Lorraine Broughton is a credible, and incredibly sexy action hero. I also thought she was quite good in the fight scenes, and she isn’t afraid to get down and dirty, and bloody, as the plot requires. I don’t think we’ve seen a female action character who gets so bloodied, beaten, and bruised as she does here, and yet, she always gives better than she gets.
MA: Again, I disagree. I didn’t find her Lorrain Broughton credible at all. She’s sexy, sure, but I was less impressed with her fight scenes—except for the one I mentioned—than you were. And sure she gets bloodied and bruised, but she didn’t seem to be in all that much pain. Again, I just wasn’t buying it.
LS: I thought she convincingly showed she was in pain several times. I also loved the soundtrack here, made up mostly of electronic new wave hits of the 1980s, by original bands like David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” After the Fire’s “Der Kommissar,” Nena’s “99 Luftballons” and Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry,” as well as covers like HEALTH covering New Order’s “Blue Monday,” and Marilyn Manson and Tyler Bates covering Ministry’s industrial classic, “Stigmata.” Guitars turn up later on with The Clash’s classic, “London Calling.” The music is all good, mostly played prominently on the soundtrack, helping to create the mood and the time period. The music was almost a character unto itself.
MA: Yup, the soundtrack was fun. It certainly brought back memories of the 1980s.
LS: I really loved this movie, and think it’s one of the best films of 2017 so far. I give ATOMIC BLONDE three and a half knives.
MA: I liked it much less than you, and I wouldn’t call it one of the best films of 2017. It’s not even close.
I had three major problems with ATOMIC BLONDE. Number one, unlike you, I simply didn’t buy into Charlize Theron in this role as Lorraine Broughton. I thought she was miscast here. Her performance in this movie as an action hero reminded me more of a Tom Cruise performance than a Tom Hardy performance. The toughness and grit Theron showed in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD isn’t really on display here.
Likewise, while James McAvoy turns in a decent performance, neither actor puts this film on their backs and carries it to the finish line.
The bigger problem I had with ATOMIC BLONDE was the direction by David Leitch. While the action scenes weren’t bad, and one in particular was very good, the biggest issue I had with Leitch was his lack of focus. It didn’t really capture that over-the-top graphic novel feel, nor did possess the teeth of a hard biting Cold War thriller. It was stuck somewhere in the middle.
And last but not least, I wasn’t all that impressed with the screenplay by Kurt Johnstad. The dialogue didn’t wow me, and the story was nothing I hadn’t seen before. That oh-so-important list of spy names and identities I think has been done to death in the BOURNE films alone, let alone other spy movies. I also didn’t think it captured what it was like to be in East Berlin just before the wall came crashing down. It sure talks about it a lot, but I never felt I was there.
So, for me, ATOMIC BLONDE fell short of my expectations. It’s not bad, but it’s also not as fun and entertaining as I expected it to be.
I give it two and a half knives.
Okay, now that we’re done, and we’ve waded through all this Cold War and KGB talk, I suggest a quick exit before someone is tempted to make a joke about “collusion.”
LS: Good idea. Because here in Cinema Knife Fight Land, we leave all politics by the door.
MA: Speaking of which, where is the door? I can’t see a thing with all this fog.
LS: Just take three steps forward.
MA: One, two, thr— aah!
LS: Or maybe that’s three steps to the window. Heh heh.
(MA’s voice from below): Thank heaven for awnings!
© Copyright 2017 by L.L. Soares & Michael Arruda
LL Soares gives ATOMIC BLONDE ~three and a half knives.
Michael Arruda gives ATOMIC BLONDE ~two and a half knives.