The Hippo


Jun 26, 2019








Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde (R)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

Atomic Blonde (R)

Charlize Theron is a British secret agent in November 1989 Berlin in Atomic Blonde, a melted together lump of 1980s compilation CDs, fight scenes and visual fanciness that made for a good trailer but a slog of a movie.
Maybe two and a half good minutes was all this movie had in it. 
Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is a British spy sent to Berlin to work with David Percival (James McAvoy), another British spy, after the death of spy James Gascoigne (Sam Hargrave), who also was Lorraine’s secret boyfriend. Gascoigne died during an operation to secure a list that features the names and work histories of oodles of western spies operating against the Soviet Union. A Soviet operative (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) killed Gascoigne and stole the watch containing the list. But rather than take it to his bosses, he intends to sell it to the highest bidder. 
These are the last days of the divided Berlin, so to search for the list and for a mole in British intelligence, Lorraine has to operate on both sides of the wall. Spies and government agents abound and include a shifty East German (Roland Møller) and a French operative (Sofia Boutella). Throughout, we hear the story relayed in flashback by Lorraine to MI6 officers (Toby Jones, James Faulkner) and a CIA officer (John Goodman).
Theron’s bleach blond hair and her crisp black, gray and white (and occasionally red and metallic) wardrobe; the hits of the 1980s, specifically “Der Kommissar” and “99 Luftballons”; fight scenes of close combat between Lorraine and assorted henchmen; a bunch of spy bric-a-brac about East and West Berlin; some bad-music-video-ish sex scenes — this collection of bedazzlements filled the trailer and suggested, if nothing else, a fun action movie. But the movie itself is nothing but more of this stuff, with nothing of heft or weight underneath.  Atomic Blonde is all puffy paint with no acid-washed denim jacket. Ultimately the movie doesn’t hang together because all of the stuff thrown at it to sexy it up has nothing to stick to. The story feels very “intro to spy plots” and the mystery of the double agent is not particularly interesting and is resolved in a way that makes much of what came before feel pointless. The performances are dodgy; Theron in particular feels flat. (Rooting for Theron feels like the element that would make all this noise enjoyable but I never felt anything but — to borrow from the Emoji review — “meh” for her character.) Occasionally, some of the fight scenes have the kind of coolness of choreography that hand-to-hand combat can have, especially when one or two people are fighting one or two people, but they tend to feel rather plopped into the movie — “here is your fun fight scene,” without a lot of stakes or connection to the plot.
Maybe because the trailers had me expecting better, I left Atomic Blonde not just disappointed but annoyed that this is the best the movie could do with its stars, setting (the turmoil of the end of the Cold War has plenty of narrative possibility) and the promise of a kick-butt heroine (Or anti-heroine, even; Theron as a coherent anti-heroine character would have been fine too. Instead, all her character work seems outfit-based.)
From afar Atomic Blonde looked like some glittery superhero fun but in reality it is nothing but a pile of sparkly junk. C-
Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity. Directed by David Leitch with a screenplay by Kurt Johnstad (based on the Oni Press graphic novel series The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart), Atomic Blonde is an hour and 55 minutes long and distributed by Focus Features. 

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