|UK Release Date||9th August 2017|
|Starring||CHARLIZE, Great Music|
|Reviewed||6th August 2017|
We are huge fans of John Wick here at BS Towers, feel free to head over to our review of that movie if you're not aware. A not insubstantial essay on the subject resides on my hard drive somewhere, waiting for me to get the time / motivation to actually finish my wholesome praise of that movie. The second one, ah, not so bothered. The now touted 'expanded universe' good lord no. It's a simple film, executed magnificently by co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, both stunt coordinators. Leitch has been busy ahead of hopefully knocking Deadpool 2 out of the park next year and he hasn't strayed too far from his apparent subject of expertise.
This time, Leitch swaps Keanu out for Charlize Theron and personal revenge out for commitment to the cause as he moves to blue / grey-soaked East Berlin for Atomic Blonde (based on the comic book The Coldest City by Anthony Johnston - which obviously I have not read) Theron is Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent in Cold War East Berlin in the run up to the wall falling at the arse-end of the 80's. We first meet Broughton as she is brought in for questioning by Toby Jones' Eric Gary. Gray's American counterpart Emmet Kurfeld (John Goodman) sits in on the interview, much to Broughton's apparent distaste. As Chief 'C' (James Faulkner) looks on through one-way glass, Broughton mutters a word under her breath, brilliantly undermining everyone in and outside the room, before spinning a tale that we are left trying to sift through to sort the truth from the lies.
But not trying too hard. Plot isn't something you should concern yourself too much with for this movie. It's essentially a double double crossing tale revolving around a maguffin as old as movies themselves. A list of spy's names, codenamed 'The List' (genius) has gone AWOL when spy James Gasciogne, heavily hinted at as Broughton's former squeeze, is slaughtered on the run from shady hitmen. It's down to Broughton to retrieve the list before the wall falls and... er... well, I'm not one hundred percent sure what would happen is she doesn't but as noted above, it doesn't really matter.
Thrown into this potent mix of double double crossing is James McAvoy's David Percival - a pretty shady fellow agent on the other side of the wall, Eddie Marsan's Spyglass - the originator of the list and the one who's brain it also resides in and Sofia Boutella's Delphine Lesalle - whose job to be completely honest I forget. I think she's probably also a spy of some sort, whatever she does, Broughton likes it a lot. Plus the usual cavalcade of evil henchmen and so forth from the other side. Oh, and an absolute storm of late eighties / early nineties soundtrack.
The soundtrack itself, much like the filter Leitch insists on using on his lens, is pretty much a character in this movie. If you've seen the trailer, you'll understand what I mean. Self consciously dirty, with some magnificent covers as well as originals, it is matched perfectly to the action. Eighties standards such as New Order's Blue Monday (covered by Health) and Nena's 99 Luftballons (rocked out twice in original and cover version) nestle alongside tracks like David Bowie's Cat People, Fight the Power by Public Enemy, briefly Cities on Fire by Siouxsie and the Banshees and a superb cover of Ministry's Stigmata by Marilyn Manson & Tyler Bates. Honestly, if you love grubby electro, this movie is worth seeing for that alone.
In terms of people characters, there is really only one that makes any difference and that is of course, Charlize Theron. After her total ownership of Mad Max: Fury Road, she drops in here, smouldering in a peroxide wig, long, swishing coat and thigh-high boots (Broughton's equivalent of Wick's lank hair, pristine suit and immovable tie). From the moment she utters that word during the opening interview, she completely owns the movie and everyone in it. As indestructible as you would expect for a super-agent in this sort of movie, she is equally as vulnerable when the action slows and she finds time to spend some quality time with Lesalle.
The action scenes (essentially the fourth character after the filter, the soundtrack and Theron) are pretty relentless and, if you're familiar with Wick, very much from the same drawing board. Balletic and blessed with minimal visible chopping about in the cutting room, Theron spirals through the set pieces with a brutal grace it's hard to describe on paper. As at home with a weaponised garden hose as her own fists, Broughton is a fearsome predator, stalking the streets of East Berlin. Fists are more of a feature here than guns and one particularly magnificent scene stands out as one of the best choreographed fights I've seen since The Raid. Theron is flawless and Leitch has a wonderful understanding of how to make such brutality both thrilling and realistic (within the bounds of a super-spy movie, obviously).
The script is good enough for what it needs to do. Broughton comes across with a savage wit that is equally as sharp as any of the implements she utilises on her journey. Outside her, the characters come and go. James McAvoy seems drafted in from a different movie (possibly set in Glasgow) but his character is dangerous enough to not just be there to make Broughton look good. Boutella is decent presence, adding some much needed humanity to Broughton and Eddie Marsan plays pretty much his usual character as the way out of his depth Spyglass. It's all silly nonsense that adds up to a woefully confusing story with completely unmemorable bad guys but the sheer horrible grace and perfect pacing of the thing whizzes you over such worries.
Atomic Blonde is a movie that you can sit back and allow to wash over you. A bit like you would stuck in a strong current clinging to your boat ladder for dear life. The music, daft as a brush script and standout action hero all meld together in Leitch's spectacularly choreographed stunt-e-thon. Theron is absolutely magnificent both smashing bad guys faces with fridge doors and suffering the alcoholic loneliness of such a life. Superb all round. If you saw John Wick and hated it, this may not be for you.