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27 July 2017, 09:33 | Santos West
Charlize Theron plays an assassin in “Atomic Blonde.” Jonathan Prime Focus Features
On a purely visceral level, "Atomic Blonde" is a masterful piece of cinema.
Whereas John Wick could coast on its action thanks to a lean plot, a comically simple premise (they killed his puppy!), and a rich world that we always wanted to know more about, Atomic Blonde is always getting bogged down in a story it doesn't know how to handle. The tunes ("99 Luftballons") mostly just goose the violence and beg for laughs, having been chosen to elicit knowing smiles of recognition. There has to be a name for that type of movie!
What our friend lacked in eloquence he made up for in accuracy, because bit pony Atomic Blonde certainly was.
The year is 1989, and on the eve of the Berlin Wall's collapse, Lorraine Braughton (Charlize Theron), a top-level MI6 super spy, has arrived in town on a covert mission to dismantle an espionage ring. She instead discovers that the Berlin situation has spiraled out of control, multiple competing parties are after the same information, nobody is who they say they are and can't be trusted even if they were - and she'll ultimately have to fight her way out. Sent alone into Berlin to deliver a priceless dossier out of the destabilized city, she partners with embedded station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) to navigate her way through the deadliest game of spies. He is in possession of a list of all the British intelligence assets working in the communist bloc, which he received from an East German Stasi member code-named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan). The character is kept so mysterious (she is a spy, after all) that Lorraine could really do anything.
There's a fight sequence nearly two thirds of the way through Atomic Blonde that I'm convinced is going to go down as an all time classic.
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"We need to have more women make these movies for sure", Theron said.
When the story of "The Atomic Blonde" officially begins, we see a ceiling shot from the back of Charlize Theron immersed in a tub full of ice. Whatever the case, shame! Have you ever seen what professional fighters look like after 10 straight minutes of fighting? Well, it's not not good if that counts. "She had the will and the ability, which was really exciting because I wouldn't have to cheat these great sequences". It's not a surprise that early buzz for the movie called Theron the female James Bond (she substitutes a shaken Martini for Stolli on the rocks), also citing her equivalence to Jason Bourne and John Wick, a character Leitch also concocted.
Let's rewind things for a moment, which, as it's a narrative trick Leitch is so fond of employing, I feel no guilt over appropriating here.
Theron plays a British spy (OR IS SHE?) trying to out-spy some other spies (OR ARE THEY?) who murdered this one other spy (HRRMMM??) and there's also a mega-list of spies to track down (SPY SPY SPY!). He wants you to remember Lorraine stabbing a Soviet thug in the neck with a vehicle key. "It does rely on the actor's ability when you don't have the money for CGI spectacle". Nothing is too dumb for this script and that's kinda why it works. Another major cornerstone at the corner of action and blockbuster lies "Mad Max: Fury Road", a masterpiece of both genres that re-introduced the world to just how wonderful Charlize Theron really is. And I don't mean a sense of humor as in the protagonist cracking dick jokes or slipping on a banana peel during fist fights, I just mean basic visual inventiveness. She's truly spectacular here, showing that what she did in Mad Max:Fury Road (we can pretend things like Aeon Flux never happened) wasn't a one off. "Atomic Blonde" promises something explosive and grasps at excellence - it just has too much whimper and not enough bang. Of course you can, but this is the summer. X-Men's James McAvoy is a scene-stealer as Percival, walking the flawless line between lovable cad and unscrupulous scumbag, in order to keep you guessing.
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