Friday 28 July 2017

Film Review: Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron adds a spoonful of oestrogen to the spy game in 80s Cold War action flick Atomic Blonde.

Adapted from a 2012 graphic novel called The Coldest City and directed by David Leitch, one half of the filmmaker duo behind the original John Wick, Atomic Blonde thrusts ice cold killer queen Charlize Theron to the fore for a jam-packed Cold War espionage thriller set in 1989 during the final days of a divided Germany. 

Playing a British intelligence agent called Lorraine Broughton, Theron’s mission appears rather simple on the surface; after a fellow MI6 agent is killed in East Berlin by the KGB, Lorraine is dispatched to retrieve a valuable list of codenames that could be fatal in the wrong hands. To achieve this, Lorraine must learn to work with Percival (James McAvoy), a fellow British agent based out of Berlin, as well as a mysterious French operative called Delphine (Sofia Boutella), who of course has her own agenda. 

The first thing you notice about Atomic Blonde is that it looks incredible, with a capital I. The cinematography is luscious and the production design parades a potent concoction of wall-to-wall neon. Shades of hot pink, vivid aqua and deep crimson bring the period setting to life, from pounding Berlin nightclubs to graffiti-strewn back alleys. 

Striding through it all is Theron, who cuts a striking figure with an assortment of commanding costume designs and inventive framing, and also does an excellent job of carving through the intricately choreographed fight scenes, which echo John Wick and Netflix’s Daredevil by using minimal edits and maximum punchiness. 

The soundtrack, as was the case with Baby Driver last month and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 before that, is the icing on the cake. Wholeheartedly embracing its colourful setting, Leitch furnishes the film with a soundtrack of pounding 80s choons from the likes of Depeche Mode, New Order, Queen, The Cure and Public Enemy. 

While it excels in a visual and visceral sense, I had a hard time wrapping my head around some of Atomic Blonde’s more convoluted plot machinations. Lorraine’s mission behind the Berlin Wall involves a crop of rival agents, a clutch of codenames (Spyglass? Satchel?) and more twists, turns and reversals than a snake lost in a maze. 

By the time we reach the rather ludicrous final act, Atomic Blonde had wrapped itself in more knots than a pair of iPod headphones that have been ham-fistedly shoved into your pocket. To call its final ten minutes confusing is an understatement as it unloads a ton of reveals, like a Scooby Doo villain wearing not one or two but three masks over his face.

Theron, Boutella and McAvoy still make for an interesting triumvirate of spies, but  the criss-crossing plot supporting them is loopier than it needs to be. Still, it’s a great showcase of Theron’s ability to headline a film and the hand-to-hand stuntwork and fight choreography is second-to-none.

The Verdict: 7/10

Unquestionably an exercise in style over substance, Atomic Blonde is not the home run for which many were hoping but also not a complete strike out. 

Atomic Blonde is in cinemas across Australia on August 3.

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