The co-director of one of the most stylishly violent action movies of recent years (David Leitch: John Wick) and the star of another contender for that honor (Charlize Theron: Mad Max: Fury Road) combine for a graphic-novel adaptation that sputters badly in the story department. Relying on lots of lurid violence and sex to compensate for a choppy narrative, Atomic Blonde is driven by sound and fury, signifying not much. 1 out of 5.
Just as the Cold War is wrapping up, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is sent to Berlin to track down a list of undercover Western agents that, should it fall into the wrong hands, could prolong the Cold War for 40 years. Under the supervision of a CIA operative (John Goodman) and an MI6 investigator (Toby Jones), Broughton tries to work with Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) to retrieve the list while developing a romantic relationship with a French intelligence agent (Sofia Boutella). But with Broughton under orders to "trust no one," it's hard to know who's playing whom... and even harder to care.
An extended fight scene in the middle of the film, rivaling the epic fistfight from John Carpenter's (much superior) They Live, briefly enlivens things, but the film grows stultifying long before then.
The film's awkward flashback structure fails to add anything but occasional confusion. A straight chronological telling would have helped a story that takes too long to find its footing, but by then it's too late for us to care. The filmmakers clearly thought they were creating something stylish and even innovative, but the film becomes a slog early, then drags on interminably to its conclusion.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
Atomic Blonde is uninterested in spiritual matters for the most part, but Broughton does at one point allude to a longing for something more that we all share, saying that when all is said and done, we're all searching for the same thing. At one point Broughton also asserts, "It's a pleasure to deceive the deceiver," but that descriptive term isn't intended to refer to a spiritual force or being. In the main, a negative view of humanity is the dominant theme in the story.
The most intriguing sequence come when the film prominently incorporates into its story the poster for, and imagery from, Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, which is widely considered a premier example of "spiritual cinema." But Atomic Blonde never attempts to stir the soul as Stalker has done since its release in 1979, and the purpose behind Leitch's use of the Stalker poster and film is never entirely clear.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity
- Language/Profanity: Numerous uses of the f-word and other foul language; a crude reference to male anatomy.
- Sexuality/Nudity: Broughton rises from a bathtub; she sits on the edge of the tub, her back to us; bare backside shown, including buttocks; a breast is seen in a mirror image; a man wakes up with two women in bed, one of whose breasts are seen, as are handcuffs; Broughton gets into an ice bath, and a breast is visible from the side; women kiss; same-sex scene includes passionate kissing and touching on a bed followed by longer shot of women, unclothed, having sex; a scene in a strip club; cover of a Hustler magazine briefly seen.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Man struck by a car and pinned against another car; lots of gun violence—pointing, shooting, sometimes at point-blank range, with gunshot wounds and splattered blood shown with some frequency; lots of hitting, fighting and punching; a man is beaten with a skateboard; stabbing; car crashes; a man is run over by a car; a drowning; blood spurts from a neck wound.
Drugs/Alcohol: Multiple scenes of vodka consumption; several smoking scenes; Broughton takes pills from a prescription bottle; a bottle of Jack Daniels is said to be "straight from the [breast] of the Virgin Mary"; bar scenes; beer and whisky drinking.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Only those familiar with the graphic-novel source material and those determined to see what Theron's and Leitch's next cinematic step is.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Anyone interested in positive messages or hoping for an interesting, exhilarating action film.
Atomic Blonde, directed by David Leitch, opened in theaters July 28, 2017; available for home viewing November 14, 2017. It runs 115 minutes and stars Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones and James Faulkner. Watch the trailer for Atomic Blonde here.
Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of Hired@Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.
Publication date: July 27, 2017
Image courtesy: ©FocusFeatures