Hitting someone in the mouth causing teeth to fly across the room followed by a stream of crimson red blood. Bashing a man’s head in with a random object as he cringes in pain as the blood paints a picture of abstract art on the wall behind him. Or maybe shooting several assailants at point blank range as they fall like dominoes, one after the other. These would be my definitions of gritty action fight scenes in cinema. And what could be better if a female action superstar was causing all the mayhem? So, when I watched the trailer of the bleach platinum blonde Charlize Theron beat someone endlessly with a high heeled red shoe in the backseat of a speeding car, I was curious to see if she would live up to the gauntlet of hardcore female superstars before her. As “badass” as she is in Atomic Blonde, still, somehow, the movie tries to be too smart for its own good.
Atomic Blonde, based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, stars Academy Award-winner Charlize Theron as an undercover M16 agent sent to Berlin during The Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents. But she must decide who she can trust and soon discovers that there are no sides, just winners and losers in this unrelenting “spy game” she ends up playing.
The film’s setting is 1989 during the fall of the Berlin Wall at the end of The Cold War. If you are a fan of late 80’s music then the soundtrack, along with the bone-cracking fight scenes, will hold your attention. From “Blue Monday” by New Order and “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode, to “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen, the music and the action are carefully choreographed into an orchestrated masterpiece. It is unfortunate the story line is not.
Instead of telling the story and letting the circumstances intrigue the viewer, David Leitch (director) and Kurt Johnstad (screenwriter) rely on an assortment of disorganized flashbacks and real-time random sequences that are meant to mislead the viewer. It is a poor attempt by the filmmakers to make it difficult to separate the “good guys” from the “bad,” and ultimately, is the movie equivalent of the shell game.
But on a positive note, Charlize Theron’s cinematic presence cannot be denied. She is very convincing as a seductive, yet deadly, covert agent trying to decipher whom within her circle she can trust. Her first on-screen appearance defines her character as you witness her banged up, black and blue bruised body emerging from a bathtub full of ice. Then slowly turning towards the camera, with a badly blackened eye enjoying a cigarette after a seemingly hard day of work. Theron looks like a model straight off the cover of Vogue but fights like a cornered, salivating Pitbull. She has ice in her veins, but has a lukewarm place in her heart for the less fortunate or for the ones she truly cares about. But if you cross her, the outcome is the same –severely beaten to a pulp or death. Theron’s performance, combined with the intense action scenes, overcomes the complicated story line.
Some people will compare this to the Bond films due to the main character being a British operative. But does that make Leitch’s action-spy drama Bond-ish like? Of course not. Atomic Blonde, although filled with tons of action, ultimately lacks the style and elegance of a Bond film, yet it is still worth a watch. However, the $1 million-dollar question remains: “Should the next Bond film cast a female as Bond?” If Johnston’s Atomic Blonde is any indication, the idea of a female Bond is absolutely on the table now if wasn’t already. Although Theron bashfully avoided this question on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show recently, such a casting move, in my mind, would be a “no-brainer” because the Oscar-winning actress would turn the “franchise on its head.”
And no disrespect to Daniel Craig (Casino Royale is still my favorite Bond film,) but after four films (two of which received negative to mixed reviews,) it might just be time for EON Productions to find a new face to push its product.
And why not let that face…be that of a woman?