Whether it gets the acknowledgment it deserves, we are currently in what might be called a golden age of action filmmaking. Aside from the superhero flicks that seem to be holding the industry afloat, the last few years have seen sea changes in the genre’s presence in the culture. There are the high-profile blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road, Snowpiercer, even Fast & Furious 6, which have brought new life, techniques and emotions to what a vehicular set piece can be. Many dramatic actors have found new callings later in life as physical forces of nature, such as the increasingly impressive output of Keanu Reeves or the still-insane stunts by Tom Cruise. On a smaller scale, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver brought many conventions from the ’60s and ’70s car-chase films to new audiences while still feeling fresh in its own right.
R, 115 minutes
Violet Crown, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Regal Stonefield Stadium 14 & IMAX
Carrying on that tradition, Atomic Blonde was supposed to be the great uniting of two powerful forces in this recent genre revolution. Charlize Theron was the dramatic core of perhaps the greatest action film of all time in Mad Max: Fury Road, while David Leitch has transitioned from one of Hollywood’s most sought-after stuntmen to fully formed director in his own right, beginning with John Wick, co-directed by Chad Stahelski. While Stahelski made the gorgeous and ceaselessly entertaining John Wick: Chapter 2, Leitch and Theron have combined their respective skills to make an atmospheric film that continues the recent strides in style while also striking a blow for gender representation, the perfect antidote to that glut of revenge yarns starring men in their 50s.
All in all, Atomic Blonde succeeds in doing so, but only partially. When the pieces all work together, it has the power to be as breathlessly tense as the aforementioned films while remaining committed to its atmosphere. When it loses its way—focusing too much on the plot that is neither interesting nor terribly logical, the occasional stylistic incongruity or just making the audience wait too long for the good stuff—it can be quite a chore.
David Leitch and Charlize Theron have combined their respective skills to make an atmospheric film that continues the recent strides in style while also striking a blow for gender representation.
The story follows MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) as she is sent to East Berlin in 1989 to recover a watch that contains a list of secret agents and their identities. When she arrives, the convergence of superpowers fighting for the package amid the collapse of an entire nation makes this operation more dangerous, and alliances even more slippery. Her main contact in the East, David Percival (James McAvoy), for example, has been living this life so long—clandestine operations, cutting deals, making friends on all sides—that even he does not seem aware of where his allegiances lay.
There are two deadly sins already built into the screenplay for Atomic Blonde: The whole thing is told in an interrogation, and every character is introduced with far too much of a telling wink. The rest of the movie is then condemned to play out twists that any savvy viewer could see from miles away, all while the interrogators fail in their jobs as audience surrogates by skipping the questions we actually do want answers to. If the film put less stock in its story this would be easy to overlook, but it’s somewhat difficult to believe that these people are super spies if any schmo can tell who the real bad guy is immediately.
The action is satisfying, and the characters believably fight like they have received extensive training yet are constrained by real-world problems such as fatigue and internal bleeding. There are too few scenes that showcase Theron’s skill as a physical actor, though there is one extended sequence in an apartment block that is worth the price of admission. Scenes like these are the one and only reason to recommend Atomic Blonde and perhaps hope for a sequel—or, at the very least, a significant role in John Wick: Chapter 3.
Playing this week
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Baby Driver, The Big Sick, The Dark Tower, Despicable Me 3, Detroit, Dunkirk, The Emoji Movie, Girls Trip, Spider-man: Homecoming, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, War for the Planet of the Apes, Wonder Woman
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
A Ghost Story, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Baby Driver, The Big Sick, The Dark Tower, Despicable Me 3, Detroit, Dunkirk, Girls Trip, Lady Macbeth, The Little Hours, Spider-man: Homecoming, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, War for the Planet of the Apes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
Dunkirk, The Emoji Movie, Spider-man: Homecoming, War for the Planet of the Apes
Charlize Theron plays MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde, which is both breathlessly tense and sometimes a chore.