If you read our review of Sing (2016), you should already have seen this coming. After all, we wanted to review Atomic Blonde last week, but the grandkids changed it to something they wanted to see. This week, we were on our own, so it was back to our original choice.
But, were the grandkids right in choosing Sing (2016) for us last week? Or would the more adult-oriented Atomic Blonde be worth watching – just not with them? We couldn’t wait to find out.
Charlize Theron has never been hesitant about messing up her good looks. After her realistic turn as a rather ugly serial killer in Monster (2003), moviegoers know that Theron doesn’t hesitate to destroy her looks for a role. In Atomic Blonde she continues that, although not quite as drastically as she did in that earlier film. From the very first moment, viewers are introduced to her character after she’s black and blue, covered in cuts and scrapes. Despite this – and a noticeable black eye and a busted lip – she storms the screen, taking on any comers. She’s the female James Bond, and like Daniel Craig’s grittier outings, she doesn’t pull any punches. Unlike Daniel, however, she can command the screen, and viewers will route for her from the start.
The rest of the cast, sadly, is a bit withdrawn in comparison. While James McAvoy seems to keep growing as an actor (playing a far different – and smarter – character in his previous gritty actioneer, Wanted (2008)), he seems dwarfed by Theron in their scenes together. He takes backstage, as does John Goodman, Toby Jones and the rest. They are all just bit players in Theron’s world of Atomic Blonde – no matter how much screen time they get.
With the film so centered around Theron, it seems that director David Letitch doesn’t really know how to focus on other important things, like the plot. The film is, at it’s base, just another Cold War spy thriller, and despite some flashy cinematography and oddly entertaining 80’s soundtrack, it quickly falls back on the tried-and-true, with all the usual sub-plots and the like.
Thankfully, Atomic Blonde seems to realize where it’s strengths are, and keeps it’s spotlight on Theron and some brutal long-cut fight sequences. This is where Theron – and Atomic Blonde itself – are at their best, and the fight sequences are so well shot the viewer can almost taste the blood and feel the pain from each vicious hit. Grittier than most fight sequences out there (including the impressive ones in films like The Bourne Identity (2002)), these sequences are destined to become classics all on their own.
With Charlize Theron leading the way through those shockingly gritty fight sequences, the film seems like it should be top-notch. Sadly, a tired plot and the rest of the cast’s inability to entice the viewers – or the director’s lack of interest in letting them do so – keep Atomic Blonde from reaching it’s full potential. Sure, anybody will easily vote in Charlize Theron if they ever start casting a female James Bond, and those fight sequences are destined to become classic cinema moments. But despite it’s style (and intriguing 80’s music backdrop), Atomic Blonde as a whole isn’t as impressive as it could have been.