“There’s only one question left to ask: who won, and what was the f***ing game anyway?” This line, delivered by a principle character, is seemingly philosophical on its own but in my opinion, it showcases Atomic Blonde’s largest flaw – a seemingly incomprehensible plot.
Adapted from the graphic novel “The Coldest City” (written by Antony Johnston & illustrated by Sam Hart), Atomic Blonde takes place November 1989 in Berlin, Germany. Communism is collapsing, the Berlin wall will soon be torn down, and amongst the rioting and raiding a list has been stolen containing detailed information on espionage officers on both sides of the wall; a list that agents have killed and died for. Britain’s MI6 sends in Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) to recover the list with the help of fellow operative Percival (James McAvoy), but as soon as she lands in Berlin she soon realizes how fragile the actual state of Berlin is in & how important her supervisors words of advice are, “trust no one.”
Some of you may notice that Atomic Blonde’s action shots and overall cinematic style is reminiscent of John Wick, that’s because it was directed by stuntman-turned-director David Leitch, which gave me hope that this movie would be on the same level of plot, action sequences, relatable characters; sadly, Atomic fell short of those expectations. Charlize Theron is a tall drink of Stoli on the rocks in her portrayal of James Bond-esque Broughton: a cool, collected, and an all-around bad-ass spy, who’s style and fight sequences were both beautiful and electric, however, her plot motivations were muddled. From the beginning, the audience is unclear on whether or not she’s sent abroad to recover the list of operatives or to find a double agent known only as “Satchel”. The list itself continuously changes hands, with characters memorizing it (defeating the purpose of its significance), and the identity of “Satchel” is hinted at throughout the film but it doesn’t seem to be a heavy motivator to any of the characters until the “big reveal” and even then it seems lackluster. The whole point of being a spy is to lie, cheat, double-cross, and deceive so when an agents overall loyalty is questioned, especially as it pertains to the fall of a governmental regime, I feel like that should be a bigger plot point; it felt like an attempt at a darker thread within the plot when the overall movie seemed to be more light-hearted and entertaining. McAvoy portrays Percival as an unhinged, erratic alcoholic who smokes too much and has become inundated with the East Berlin party scene. Given this setup, the questioning of his loyalties is an all-too-predictable plot point. Sofia Boutella also lands in the mix as a naive French operative on her first job, who, while stalking Broughton, seemingly falls for her and it leads to a gratuitous, albeit necessary, lesbian sex scene that temporarily displays a more human side to Broughton.
Character motivations aside, Atomic Blonde is a fun, fast-paced action flick with an electric wardrobe and a killer soundtrack. The clothing on both sides of the wall accurately reflect the differences in culture while the soundtrack is full of classic favorites like “Under Pressure”, “99 Luftballons” “London Calling”, and more, often giving the supplying context to the underlying emotions of the scenes. With Theron doing most of her own stunts it feels semi-relatable because you see her take hits, she’s not perfect & doesn’t land every punch, which allows the audience to feel for her when you see her bruised and bloodied body recover in an ice bath.
Overall, I was excited to see a woman featured in a predominantly male role and this movie started off as an explosion to the senses; but like a strong, neon light that all us movie moths flock to, the film ultimately resulted in flickering plots that went nowhere.