Atomic Blonde is directed by half of the directorial pair behind the original John Wick. Chad Stahelski continued with this spring’s excellent John Wick 2. David Leitch moved on to Atomic Blonde, a film that in trailers seemed to share plenty of DNA with John Wick. Those trailers were somewhat misleading. The action in Atomic Blonde has the same impact as that new king of action movies. Too bad the rest of the movie isn’t of the same quality. Atomic Blonde has plenty to offer, but its plot is convoluted to the point of incoherence.
The action is good, even great. What there is of it. There are two real action scenes, as well as a few smaller bits. Those parts a uniformly great, especially an extended fight in a stairwell that is among the best I’ve ever seen. Charlize Theron, who stars as British spy Lorraine Broughton, is perfect doing her stunts and generally kicking ass. Not that that is a surprise after seeing her in Mad Max Fury Road. Every time that she is forced to fight, the movie kicks it up a notch.
The plot, though, is a real problem. In brief, is that Broughton is sent to Berlin by MI6 to track down a list of double agents that a defector gave a since murdered agent. She teams with the British man on the ground, played by a James McAvoy who appears to be having a wonderful time, and a French agent to track down both the defector and the list. This is Berlin of the 80’s, just before the wall fell. That informs the style and the music of the film, but not much else. It is set in the Cold War and that is all that you need to know. There are double and triple crosses as things play out, but they don’t really land. It seems to want to be something like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy but never gets anywhere close to that level of tension or paranoia. It is just a muddle that for all the actors are trying to make it work just makes it a challenge to get from action scene to action scene.
That music is a point of contention. The soundtrack would make an excellent 80’s mixtape, but it tends to be pretty on the nose, with the most obvious songs used in the most obvious of places. It is more Suicide Squad than Guardians of the Galaxy or Baby Driver when it comes to the music. That being said, the relentless 80’sness of it really makes the setting pop. And the music is mostly really great.
There is a lot to like in Atomic Blonde. Theron is great, and Lorraine Broughton could be an interesting character to see the further adventures of. And again, it can’t be overstated how excellent the action is, though there could certainly be more it. This is a movie that really could have been helped by the relative simplicity of something like John Wick. The plot tries for complexity and lands in confusion; detracting from all the things that movie does well. It ends up caught in a no man’s land between John Wick and John LeCarre. Go see it, you might love it, but it pales in comparison to John Wick Chapter 2.