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Atomic Blonde 2017 movie is sure to make a phenomenon highlight reel. It already is one, in a manner of speaking, given that its strengths are lavishly violent, inventively choreographed fights that have been glued together by nonsense and Charlize Theron. The nonsense finds spies chasing secrets in Berlin just prior to the fall of the wall, which may hint at John le Carré but plays closer to a dumb and dumber take on Boris and Natasha.
Mostly, Atomic Blonde movie is an excuse to watch a beautiful, deviously clever female avatar as she is stripped naked, dolled up and repeatedly beaten down only to rise again.
It’s Charlize Theron’s world, and we’re just living in it
If Baby Driver is the car-chase musical, does that make Atomic Blonde the… punch-face musical?
Though the two films may bear different souls – Edgar Wright’s vinyl-spin love story vs. Atomic Blonde’s cold, lethal kiss – they seem surprisingly linked in this summer’s cinematic scene. Both are films that treat music like oxygen, with the next one sustaining itself on a barrage of ‘80s synth pop sensations: New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’, David Bowie’s ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’, to George Michael’s ‘Father Figure’.
The movie’s emotional climax is set to a slowed down tribute of ’99 Luftballons’, while its own (short) take on the car-chase is influenced by A Flock of Seagulls’ ‘I Ran’. Musical picks so unapologetic, half-absurd in their brashness that it’s certain Atomic Blonde online has none of the loftier, cinephilic ambitions of Baby Driver: it’s here only to bring you a damn good time.
One thing Baby Driver full movie does lack, however, is Charlize Theron. The Killer Queen. The Torpedo. The Slayer of Weak Men. She’s Hollywood’s Daenerys Targaryen in how many emphatic, triumphant titles she deserves.
Indeed, Atomic Blonde’s musical beats may be essential, but they wind up being but an echo of the blood pumping through viewers’ veins as she kicks ass in every shot. If there was ever any doubt that Theron earned her spot as one of today’s biggest action stars, let that doubt be firmly dismissed.
She’s the type of woman, in a way, who seems quietly revolutionary simply by refusing to reveal hesitation in her own strength, and maybe that’s her appeal. Her role as patriarchy-beating amputee Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road had its own stoicism, but in this film, her silence becomes steely and bitter as MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, who hardly flinches when told of the death of her late lover (Sam Hargrave) at the hands of a KGB agent.
She excels at giving a dagger stare that still holds its own nonchalance, and there’s definitely a grasp of Bond about her; she even gets her own Bond girl in the form of Sofia Boutella’s naïve French agent Delphine. No gadgets, however. Instead, Lorraine’s weapons arsenal is surprisingly flexible: heels, a hose, keys, a ladder, a DJ deck. Whatever gets the job done.
This kind of spectacle — suit her up, suit her down, smack her around and wait for vengeance — isn’t new, even if filmmakers like to insist otherwise. What’s relatively different here is the sexed-up packaging of the violence in mix with Ms. Theron, who portrays Lorraine Broughton, a secret agent in Her Majesty’s Secret Service with a golden bob and a fondness for deadly heels. Much similar to James Bond, Lorraine shoots to kill while remaining gorgeously dressed to kill. This means she gets slammed around a lot, and takes almost as much punishment as she metes out. She’s a punching bag, but she’s also a dream girl: the avenging queen, men destroyer.
Lorraine gets tons of opportunities to do in Berlin, where the story soon becomes spy versus spy with washes of lurid color, mastery camerawork, loads of car crashes and wall-to-wall pounding tunes. The airborne cars pirouette prettily, bashing and smashing with all the technological expertise production money can buy; the symphony of body blows, gun pops and crunching metal sounds fine and convincing. The music (“99 Luftballons”) basically just pushes the violence and begs for laughs, having been chosen to depict knowing smiles of recognition. At one point, James McAvoy gets into the story looking all flashy or something and petting on a smirk he needs to employ more cautiously.
For her part, Ms. Theron appears hot and color coordinated, with black and white costumes that suit her character’s ambiguity. Lorraine smokes and drinks and loves cold baths, preferably full of ice cubes that do wonders for bruises and nipples. When she isn’t moodily bathing or gazing — into a mirror or the distance — she does an unexpected amount of walking. She goes here, wanders there, strolling down halls and meandering streets that the director David Leitch turns into fashion runways. She doesn’t slip into rooms, she cat-walks, making entrances as if looking for trouble or paparazzi; it’s no wonder someone says she isn’t well disguised. Ms. Theron really is ready to play Bond.
Written by Kurt Johnstad, Atomic Blonde is loosely based on “The Coldest City,” a grimly shadowed, minimalist graphic book written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart. As in the book, the film continually shifts between Berlin, where all the action takes place, and an interrogation room in which Lorraine is being interrogated by some intelligence types (John Goodman, Toby Jones in action). On the page, this division works, but on the screen it weakens the story’s momentum, partly because there’s no violence to distract from the genericism and puerility of the lines. At least in Berlin there are streets, beats and the view of busily moving, twisting and body slamming.
As she does, Ms. Theron locks down your attention instantly with her beauty and quiet vigilance. (She lets you see that she knows you’re watching her.) Plenty of beautiful people slide right off the screen. Ms. Theron, on contrary, holds you partly as she doesn’t look excited to let you in, keeping you anticipated as she keeps you at bay with reserve and sphinxlike smiles. This distance adds up her mystery and it also pushes the eruptions of violence to be more electric. As Mad Max: Fury Road confirmed, she was born a warrior, but it’s fascinating here that each exertion and exhalation, each meaty, pulpy thump, also appears to be battering the fortifications that she has built around her.
Mr. Leitch was one of the directors on John Wick a figure of economic genre moviemaking, and he gives this film’s action scenes the same pummeling, visceral quality. Lorraine throws punches and gets punched, and her body is eventually mapped by bruises and abrasions. It’s a lot of abuse for such puny comebacks, even if the brawls are the best parts of Atomic Blonde full movie. Mr. Leitch knows the expressivity of hand-to-hand combats and he frames them in order, pushing in when it counts and pulling back to feature entire bodies in whirling motion. The closeness signifies the intimacy of fight while the distance underlines the performative side, ensuring you to see both the choreography and the violent beauty moving forward and backward one step at a time.