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Review: Atomic Blonde (SDCC 2017)

Atomic Blonde (SDCC 2017)
07.23.2017
8 10

Director David Leitch made a big splash when he co-directed 2014's JOHN WICK with Chad Stahelski, but now he's branched off on his own in his first solo directing feature with ATOMIC BLONDE. So, is he able to capture that same magic on his own or was it all a fluke? Starring Charlize Theron as the titular "blonde", as well as James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman and Toby Jones in supporting roles, ATOMIC BLONDE is a mixed bag of style, excess, thrills, sensuality and some truly awesome sequences (with one of them being the major standout) that make for an enjoyable ride, albeit with some issues that hinder it from being as fully realized as it could've been.

Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 spy that is tasked with tracking down the source of a secret list that exposes undercover agents all over the world, which coincidentally kicks off with the death of another spy/former flame played by Sam Hargrave. What follows is a series of doublecrosses, triplecrosses, shady deals, mysterious figures and all manner of spy intrigue that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. Based on the graphic novel "The Coldest City" by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, the screenplay by Kurt Johnstad certainly has some surprising and fun twists, but it also gets way more complicated than it needs to be at times and you may find yourself doing the math in your head to catch up on just what the hell is going on.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, but once you get to the sum of what's happening it often leaves you with a "that's it?" kind of feeling, especially if you were hoping for more ass-kicking than brain-twisting. Set during the end of the Cold War, just before the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the film revolves around a politically charged environment, but doesn't really make a statement about it. It just kind of lives and breathes there, which is cool for atmosphere, but for those not caught up on history it kind of serves as an extra detail to keep up on that may confuse some as they try to figure out how it fits into the overall scheme of things.

Theron is terrific in the role and continues to show that she's an actress that can transform into any role in any genre. Here, she's the prototypical "superspy with an attitude" that we've seen dominated mostly by male-led films in the past and she plays many of those stereotypes in perfect form. However, she's not an invulnerable superspy and that's where Theron brings a larger level of gravitas to the role. Yes, she's a force to be reckoned with and damn good at dispatching bad guys, but that doesn't mean she isn't run through the ringer herself. Theron has already proven many times over that she can handle the physical demands of a role and the camera stays on her throughout the carnage to show you that, yes, that really was her. There's a larger sequence toward the end of the film that is one continuous shot (at least I couldn't spot any breaks) and it's a serious tour de force for Theron, who takes a hit as well as she dishes them, often in brutal and hilarious means. You'll often laugh out loud at the carnage as it's played in such an "oh shit" way that you can't help but shout at the screen, like a wrestling match on pay per view (but with a lot more blood).

McAvoy is solid as David Percival, an agent in Berlin who serves as Theron's contact on the ground as she searches for the source of the leaked information. He's always a reliable presence in any film and he's got that same sleezy-yet-charming thing going on here that we've seen him adapt in other films. However, that schtick is getting a little worn and even though it works totally fine here, it still kind of feels like McAvoy recycling another role. John Goodman and Toby Jones are seasoned actors that offer the kind of veteran-level acting you'd expect as shady government types and Sofia Boutella brings out both sensuality and vulnerability, not only to the film, but also to Theron's character. Like many spy films, including the Bond flicks, Boutella is very much a kind of "Bond girl" character, complete with a sexual relationship with the protagonist that serves the story better than you might expect. Both Theron and Boutella have great chemistry and there's never a moment that you couldn't see why they'd be attracted to one another.

I hesitate to call ATOMIC BLONDE an action film as it's much weightier on mystery and intrigue than beatdown action. It has quite a few lulls that slow down the proceedings, but Leitch has enlisted a secret weapon to help you deal with that; a killer 80's soundtrack, complete with foreign riffs on old classics and playful uses of that era's best. While not the end-all, be-all of summer action, ATOMIC BLONDE is ultimately a cool, brutal and retro-styled blast of fun that leaves us with another strong outing for Theron, who continues to proves she can act her ass off in both dramatic and action roles, and the promise of great things to come from Leitch (who is currently shooting DEADPOOL 2). If you're looking for a stylish thriller with a kickass soundtrack and a few awesome (and technically amazing) fight scenes, then ATOMIC BLONDE has got your number.

In terms of the below score (and I've been clear how much I hate scores), it's rounded up higher due to the many standout elements mentioned above and this definitely feels like a film I'll watch many times over when it's in my collection.

Source: JoBlo.com

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