It promises action, sexiness, intrigue, a “cool” style, and above all else, a butt-kicking, no-bulls**t Theron. The audience gets to see four out of five of these things, but the missing element — intrigue — is a big one. What’s the point of having such great aesthetics when the substance within is interchangeably dull, confusing and cryptic?
Without intrigue, there’s an emptiness to the film, which very clearly tries to be a dark comedy (like Keanu Reeves’ John Wick films), but doesn’t quite make it. Atomic Blonde, derived from the graphic novel The Coldest City, can’t be faulted for its story, but it can be faulted for its clumsy translation onto the big screen.
The storytelling method and the unfolding of the plot are tough to follow, and because you’re not told all the details until the literal end of the movie, it’s hard to develop an affinity for Theron’s Lorraine Broughton character. Watching John Wick, you cheer for him because you know his story: Guy seeks revenge on A, B, and C because of D; in Atomic Blonde, you’re so busy trying to figure out what’s happening there’s no time to get attached.
The very nature of a spy or secret agent is to be aloof and unlikable. Unfortunately, Lorraine is so good at her job it’s impossible to know what she’s feeling or thinking at any given moment.
You must be wrong. The trailer is so good
It really is a work of art, but remember that a trailer is merely surface. You don’t get to delve into the film at all by watching a trailer, and it’s impossible to tell that Atomic Blonde lacks in certain areas by seeing clips of a sexy Theron punching and kicking her way across the screen.
What are the movie’s redeeming qualities?
It has many. Visually, it’s a stunner, and that goes for cast and locale. Shot in Europe and set in the former East and West Germany, the greyness and dreariness of the backdrop plays its own part. Theron’s Lorraine is always impeccably dressed, and she walks through the streets like a shark cuts through the water. All things part in her wake.
Stylistically the movie is like candy. It’s hard to pull your eyes away from the closely choreographed fight scenes and heart-racing car chases. Music choices are spot-on and provide a perfect soundtrack for a fast-paced, frenetic movie. Think ’80s music on speed.
Surely Theron doesn’t disappoint. Does she?
No, the weakness of this film doesn’t fall at Theron’s Louboutined feet. In fact, she’s its saving grace. She is an outstanding actor, and she plays her part expertly. She is completely believable as a spy/secret agent, and without her leading the movie, it’s hard to tell what the finished product may have looked like.
And James McAvoy and John Goodman?
Both great in their own right, they’re wasted in this film, especially Goodman. McAvoy is doing his best tough guy here, and Goodman is trying to tap into a Big Lebowski-style coolness. The two men are meant to be the buttresses for Theron, but instead you can count the number of lines Goodman has on your own two hands, and McAvoy’s character is so deep into deception you have no idea what his motivations are or where he’s going when he runs out the door for the umpteenth time.
So what’s the bottom line?
Atomic Blonde would have been a perfect film had the writers and screen adapters given more thought to the audience. Sure, it ticks all the boxes stylistically and looks cool, but the gaping hole in the middle is its inaccessibility. To garner interest, the movie has to give a little rather than holding all of its cards super close to the chest. The movie is not a flop, but it truly could have been something more.
‘Atomic Blonde’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.