Atomic Blonde

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I was looking forward to this movie because when I was at CinemaCon months ago, they had posters for it everywhere, and at one luncheon Charlize Theron came out to tell us about it. She did such a good job kicking ass in Mad Max, I figured this would be the perfect vehicle for her. I didn’t realize it was directed by the guy behind the overrated John Wick, and based on the graphic novel The Coldest City. The director felt he needed to make Theron’s character cold, and…you never really warm up to her.

The screenplay was written by Kurt Kohnstad, and it’s a bit of a mess. First of all, it takes the basic plot from Mission: Impossible. There’s a disc with all the secret agent names and if it gets out — they’re all in jeopardy. There are a few other things borrowed from other films. Theron is always drinking Stoli, and for those that remember Costner drinking it in No Way Out — it’s the same thing. The fight scenes also feel like something out of John Wick. Now, there’s one fight that goes from a protest on the streets into an empty apartment and stairway. It’s fantastic. In fact, most of the fight scenes are stellar. They’re shot well by Jonathan Sela, framing things in neon lights interestingly, and also showing the graffiti and look of late 80s Germany. The problem is that a movie needs more than great fight scenes. There needs to be a story to get the viewer invested. Otherwise, this is no different than Salt, or the much overrated Soderbergh flick Haywire.

The plot, without giving anything away, involves MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton (Theron) being assigned to Berlin right before the Berlin Wall comes down. She’s after the disc (contained in a watch) that has the agents’ names, including a double agent named Satchel. She meets up with agent David Percival (James McAvoy), who is a wild card. He seems to like the partying lifestyle he has going on, trading Jack Daniels for information, and doing his own thing. Broughton doesn’t seem to trust him, and neither do we.

As Broughton is being interrogated by her bosses at the start of the movie (a framing device that is often used), we at least get to see two talented actors (John Goodman, Toby Jones). She’s battered and bruised, and calling one of them a “c***sucker” under her breath. She angrily takes drags from her cigarette while looking at the other people behind the glass watching the proceedings. Now, flashback storytelling is never a problem, except in this instance; we now know she’s never in any real danger.

The car chases are a bit of fun, but I’ve been watching movies for 45 years. I’ve said before…car chases in movies like Bullitt, The French Connection, The Italian Job, and most of the Bond films…are great because they’re exciting, but we also have a vested interest in the characters. In this, Broughton is just a kick-ass agent we know nothing about. At least with the first John Wick, we knew that he loved his wife, his car, and his puppy. That was enough to carry us through a lot of the film. In this, they throw in a lesbian love scene with Sofia Boutella (Kingsmen, Star Trek Beyond, The Mummy). It felt gratuitous and added nothing to the plot (not that I’m complaining). Yet I think of a terrific movie like Bound, and the sex scenes between Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, were both sexy as hell and also important to the story.

The soundtrack was both terrific, and annoying. The songs fit the time period and location perfectly: Depeche Mode, New Order, Bowie, Flock of Seagulls, Falco, and my favorite Clash song — London Calling. My complaints would be the use of 99 Luftballons. How many times do we have to hear that, during a violent scene (it worked best in Boogie Nights 20 years ago)? They played ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” on two occasions. Side note: if you ever see Aimee Mann in concert, don’t yell out for that song. She once chided a fan that did, saying “I’ll never play that song live. If you want to hear that, it shows how little you know about me.”

I wondered why they didn’t use the terrific Blondie song “Atomic.” This movie would’ve been perfect for it (even if we did just hear it in Trainspotting 2).

Another annoying thing about the soundtrack was that it felt the way it did with Guardians of the Galaxy, and more recently Baby Driver. They’re trying to show you how hip they are with the music. Stop doing that!!! It’s terrific when a movie uses songs perfectly (Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, well…read a story I did about it here: http://fox5sandiego.com/2013/06/09/best-movie-soundtracks-ever/     

But just fitting in all these songs feels lame. Now, the electronica sounding score by Tyler Bates was outstanding.

James McAvoy, coming off a great performance in Split, is fun in this role. You’re always a bit nervous when he’s around, wheeling and dealing.

The movie had some cool fighting, but so what? The character is just too cold (hell, she takes more ice baths than Nick Nolte in North Dallas Forty).

That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to see her go all Tawny Kitaen [former model/actress from El Cajon that bashed her baseball player husband with a high heel] in a car against Russian bad guys, although later in the movie when they try throwing a twist on you, that scene doesn’t make sense; in fact, there are a few flaws in the logic of some things that happen.

This gets 2 stars out of 5, but I’m guessing the critics will overrate it.

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