Friday, July 28, 2017

Atomic Blonde

It's easy to compare Atomic Blonde to John Wick. Charlize Theron stars as a talented killer who will leave a wide swath of bodies in her wake through a series of well-executed stunt sequences. Director David Leitch (who was un-credited for directing some scenes in the previously-mentioned Keanu Reeves action flick) takes the helm and brings the same energy and feel to this project. However, the comparison only goes so far.

One of the things that makes John Wick work is the simplicity of its premise. Wick is a revenge story without the need for plot to get in the way. The character is wronged and spends the rest of the film seeking vengeance. Adapted from the comic of the same name, Atomic Blonde is an entirely different animal. Rather than a stylish revenge fantasy, the new film is a spy story that relies on several twists and turns. These begin to drag out (especially during a convoluted final act) before eventually getting us to the end of secret agent Lorraine Broughton's (Theron) journey. It doesn't help that Leitch fails to take advantage of the setting (this movie never feels like a Cold War spy thriller) or that many of the twists are either easy to see coming and/or create some large plot holes no one is eager to address.

Lacking the originality of John Wick wile trying to step into a far more complex world, Atomic Blonde stumbles a bit. Through no fault of her own, the film writes checks that Charlize Theron's ass can't cash (and she does more than her far share to try and make this premise work). If you want John Wick 3 you're going to be disappointed. If you're okay with a throwaway B-movie action film with a script on par for a Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme flick then you'll probably still have a good time. Atomic Blonde wastes as much potential as delivers on leaving us with a movie with smattering of memorable moments but not a memorable movie.

Sent into Berlin just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Lorraine is tasked with finding a list of covert operatives out on the black market. She's also tasked with finding a notorious double-agent codenamed Satchel. It's this second plot point which gets the film in trouble as the suspects for Satchel are few and far between (which the script tries to obscure through a gymnastic series of late twists and turns that eventually crush the film under their weight), and the structure of the movie lets us know at the very beginning how things ended with Lorraine's assignment meaning the entire "mystery" proves to be pointless.

Atomic Blonde isn't bad, but it's not really good either. If not for Theron's casting it wouldn't even deserve a theatrical release. Its strengths rely on its stunt sequences. While not as clever as those in John Wick, Theron is put through the wringer and left bruised and battered before all is said and done. The film earns points for physicality and action, but too often the film's story gets in its way. Aside from the massive plot hole the film's epilogue leaves, the character of Lorraine's Berlin contact (James McAvoy) is so problematic its hard to know where to begin. Assigned to help Lorraine, but doing everything he can to stop her (for reasons never truly explained other than for his own glory?), there's really no reason for Lorraine not to put a bullet in his head early on as his antics nearly get her captured and killed on multiple occasions.

The rest of the cast includes those debriefing Lorraine at MI6 (John Goodman, Toby Jones, and James Faulkner), Eddie Marsan as the man who knows all the names on the list (further complicating the plot), Bill SkarsgÄrd as a supplier of underground goods for our protagonist, and The Mummy's Sofia Boutella as a character who succeeds in providing Lorraine with a distraction but whose emotional impact on the film is never quite believable.

In a better movie either the list or Satchel would be a MacGuffin to start the action but not drive the plot. And what's up with government agencies leaving their classified lists around? Did they learn nothing from Tom Cruise more than two decades ago? Here the list continues to drive the story and the introduction of a character who also knows the names on the list only unnecessarily further complicates the plot. Having two lists at this point divides too much attention from what the film is good at - showcasing Lorraine maim and murder people. And when the Satchel story begins to take center stage the wheels really start coming off. Atomic Blonde gets in its own way far too often to ever reach its full potential, but it is fun... at least for a little while.

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