I went to a sneak preview for “Atomic Blonde” this evening, and I promised you guys some thoughts on the film. (This is pretty close to spoiler free, as far as plot goes.)
“Atomic Blonde” is not exactly an action movie. It’s a period piece spy thriller punctuated with extreme violence. And I do mean extreme. Many, many poor stalks of celery must have been sacrificed in the making of its foley effects. The fight sequences are nothing short of brutal — neither stylized nor overtly cartoonish. When Lorraine Broughton slams a dude with whatever is handy, it’s obvious that she’s genuinely fighting for her life. I am not generally squeamish about movie violence, but I flinched almost continually through the bloodier bits. One thing I appreciated, though, was how very bruised and bloody the protagonist became. This wasn’t glamour shot violence in which a severe beating leaves little more than the need for a bandage on the forehead or the lip and everything looks fine the next day. In an odd way, I respected this touch of realism.
I wanted to love this, but I only sort of liked it. I was bored on and off through the first third of the movie, which seemed like “here’s a little sparse dialogue, here’s a little violence, here’s a snappy song from the 80s” with little cohesion and some uneven pacing. I wanted to punch James McAvoy right in the throat from the first minute he appeared on screen. Charlize Theron seemed to be exhibiting a here-and-therian accent that was sometimes American and sometimes British — and sometimes neither, but nearly always off somehow. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that this was a character choice. I mean, I wouldn’t put it past her to do something like that as a symbolic gesture toward the amorphous nature of her spy character…but it might not have been anything so deep, either. I genuinely don’t know.
I enjoyed the latter half a lot more than the first, though. The pacing evened out, battles were waged, and everybody played their parts well. Events in the film were successfully woven around the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it became far more entertaining. Broughton is obviously a badass, but she doesn’t make it look easy. She makes it look bone-crunchingly hard. Also, the only sex scene in the movie was femme-on-femme, which — though a little male-gaze-y — was completely atypical for a movie like this, and an interesting touch.
Everything else aside, I have to say that I loved the costuming! Broughton is clothed almost exclusively in black and white, as if to symbolically deny the grey area in which a spy must by definition operate — besides being chic as hell. (Even the visible dark roots of her platinum blonde hair echo this theme.) Percival’s scruffy post-punk regalia (with hidden traditional English undertones) was also very effective.
I also really enjoyed the soundtrack, though Lennox thought it was too “mainstream.” I argued that since most movies are actually aimed at the coveted youth market, kids these days aren’t going to care that they used almost every single German pop hit that also charted in the US in the 1980s. They’re just gonna think that it sounds cool. And I also disagreed that it was only the most blatant pop hits. I mean, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” is likely not close to the first Bowie song most people will think of from the 80s, and “Cities in Dust” by Siouxsie & the Banshees is probably mostly forgotten in households other than ours, where Siouxsie is perhaps more revered than average. So. Obviously I’m right.
Anyway, Lennox felt like he liked it a lot more than I did, and yet we both gave it 3 out of 5 stars. (What can I say? Maybe our scales are just different.) It’s worth seeing if you have any interest in it, but I wouldn’t recommend paying full price unless you’re a Charlize superfan.