Warning, the following contains spoilers for the movie “Atomic Blonde”.
You like females? You like action? You like females getting into action with other females? You like females beating the shit out of males? You like sassy females with power and intelligence? You like spy dramas with good acting and an interesting setting? Good. Lets review Atomic Blonde.
First of all, lets be clear about the name. “Atomic Blonde” is almost entirely unrelated to the plot of the movie…at all. It has a blonde woman in it and they mention the words “Atomic Bomb” once in the film. The movie isn’t about nuclear bombs, nor is the film set anywhere near the time period of Atomic by Blondie. Bad movie marketing department, bad. It’s not a name you would associate with the intelligent gritty spy movie that this actually is. You could have called it anything, studio guys. You could have called it “The Berlin Wall” or “Spytime in Rhineland”. I’d be ok with JUST USING THE NAME OF THE GRAPHIC NOVEL THIS IS ACTUALLY BASED ON. ‘The Coldest City’ is an awesome name, why go with bullshit when you’ve got not-bullshit? I digress…
I mostly went in to watch this assuming a generic female-led action flick with little storytelling and lots of shooting. The trailers made it out to be “here’s not Scarlett Johansson doing female empowering things”. I wouldn’t be surprised if people were turned away just for having a similar opinion. I guess that kind of makes it a pleasant surprise when this movie turned out to be actually pretty awesome.
The overarching plot of the movie is straightforward enough. A list of active spies has been stolen from an English spy and another English spy is sent to Germany to retrieve it. There’s also a naughty spy who’s doing naughty things which need to be stopped. Pretty sure this was the plot for Skyfall lads, but sure, don’t fix what aint broke. The majority of the tale is told after the fact from the perspective of GENERIC BLONDE SPY (I legit can’t remember any names from this thing) who’s going through a debrief. They made sure to show her naked, bathing in ice and covered in bruises beforehand… so you can be sure she’s a serious serious spy woman.
The action is brutal. 100% total and utter brutality. Not in a “Im Frank Miller and heres a man spewing 500 pints of blood from his body” kind of way…it’s more like a crash course in real-to-life murder. There’s a certain part of the film where Generico Blondo Spyo absolutely slaughtered a bunch of dudes in a stairwell. The punches being thrown feel so real you’re sitting there wondering if they actually got dudes in to murder them on screen. The stuntment were not pulling their punches in this… it’s downright sometimes hard to watch… but entertaining as hell. Special shoutout to Generic Soviet Minion who got stabbed in the cheek with keys and hilariously had them jangling about during the rest of his fight scene.
Before we carry on with the plot and the intrigue and the spy stuff… lets just spend a moment griping about that, admittedly baller, East German based French spy dude. Does the movie expect us to believe, actually believe, that he spent hours making fake passports and crap to smuggle that family of people over the Berlin Wall. That he dressed the poor man in West German garb, gave him western cologne and took away his glasses so he could appear more western. That baller Frenchman did all this when he could LITERALLY JUST DRIVE ACROSS THE BORDER WHENEVER HE WANTED. It was totally insane that we spent ages setting up this smuggling operation and how difficult crossing the Iron Curtain is, when this guy just has to pull out a fucking Volvo, roll up to the border and not even queue to pass through it. Internal “WHUUUAAAAA?”s were had.
The mystery to this movie was fairly well laid out. They were playing it like even though there were hyper-defined sides to the plot, you couldn’t really trust anyone. The main story takes place in Iron Curtain Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Its very much a cold war spy movie with femme fetales, spies with iffy allegiances and ridiculous gadgets. The overall theming to the movie was choreographed incredibly well and I can do nothing but applaud their dankest efforts here. Theres a bit where Generica is looking over from the west side of the Berlin Wall to the east and it’s totally fucked up and looking like the 1940s. I think at one point I just went “dude…” in a shocked and non-Bill-&-Ted way.
This movie is absolutely gorgeous to watch, by the way. Every scene has this real “you could screenshot this and use as a wallpaper” vibe to it and it sways from serious gritty “shits fucked bro” to colourful comicbooky with ease. I also appreciated the soundtrack, it wasn’t overused and out of place, like a certain Squad about Suicides I can mention, but it also had a place in the film. They’d play a song and then a dude would open up his car and it’s playing there instead. It works Suicide Squad, learrrrn.
So what didn’t I like? Ok, so spoilers here. At the end you find out that Genero Blondia is framing Professor X for a lot of the crap that goes on in the movie. You see her chopping up tape, rearranging stuff so it paints him as evil big baddo spy. However, it turns out she is in fact *shocker* evil big baddo spy woman. The bit I didn’t appreciate is that, the way this movie works, you literally don’t know the truth of what happened in the movie. Sure she’s some US agent and she’s been undercover trying to take down Mother Russia because freedom and eagles and shit. I get that. But my issue is that pretty much everything that took place in the briefing could have been total lying bullcrap. Professor X could have easily have been the good guy in this, and she’s fucking him over after he’s dead.
But you never find out the truth.
Because there was no clarity here, at all, about what was real and what was made up… you’re left wondering what the point of this movie was at all. You could have just watched the start bit and the end bit. They are the only sections you are 100% sure are canonically true. Imagine watching Captain America and at the end Steve Rogers just wakes up in bed as little-weakling-Steve and it was all a dream… You’d wonder what the sodding point was.
Oh and you didn’t know this was based on a comic book? No? When the credits are rolling at the start and the names are piling in, a whole paragraph of text appears and the movie gives you around 3 seconds to read the whole fucking thing. It’s the legal small-print of the movie. You know those adverts on TV where they have the small-print for indigestion tablets where they’re like “WE WILL STOP HEARTBURN” and the small-print is saying “we will not stop heartburn”. They spend 5 minutes setting up this visionary superdirector. “A MOVIE BY DAVID LEITCH”, the film says in it’s pre-movie credits before reminding you he neither conceived the plot for the film nor even actually wrote the script for it. Nice work Dave.
This movie was good, exceptional even. There were some mis-steps here and there and I wasn’t entirely sure what the point of it all was at the end, but I had fun with it and I’d watch it again. In the end, isn’t that just what everyone wants.
I give this a solid 7/10, three of those points are because of the pleasant and somewhat relaxing to watch hardcore lesbian sex scene in the middle. You heard me.