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Now On Netflix - ATOMIC BLONDE

atomic blonde review
An MI6 agent recounts her experiences in Berlin in the days before the fall of the wall.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: David Leitch

Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella

atomic blonde poster

Daniel Craig recently confirmed he would return to the role of James Bond for one final outing, but speculation continues as to whom his successor might be, with many calling for the series to reflect modern Britain and give us a non-white Bond, perhaps even a female 007. The increasing pandering to the Chinese box office - or more importantly the socially regressive Chinese censors, who wouldn't even allow a female Ghostbusters reboot - makes both scenarios unlikely. If a female 007 is to become a reality at some point, Charlize Theron gives an impressive audition in Atomic Blonde, though she'll probably be in her seventies by the time the world is ready for a woman to wield a Walther PPK.

Theron is Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 spy recently returned to London bearing more than a few bruises after an operation in Berlin, days before the collapse of the wall. Interrogated by her superior, Eric Gray (Toby Jones), and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman), Broughton recounts the details of her mission to retrieve a piece of microfilm containing details of every western agent currently operating behind the iron curtain.

atomic blonde

Director David Leitch was, along with Chad Stehelski, one half of the duo behind the first John Wick, and Atomic Blonde gives the impression that Stehelski brought the soul to that movie (a theory further evidenced by its superior sequel, which saw Leitch step aside). Leitch's film has all the surface sheen of John Wick, but none of the pounding heart. Drenched in neon, every frame looks like it was stencilled and coloured in, rather than composed and filled, as if a compositional algorithm was consulted rather than a cinematographer.

Much of the images on screen seem plucked from a 12-year-old schoolboy's concept of 'cool', from the slo-mo close-ups of characters drawing on cigarettes to the colour coordinated sex scene between the blonde Theron and the raven-haired Sofia Boutella. It's Barb Wire for the Tumblr generation, and every shot feels like it will find its real home as a two second long gif once the blu-ray is released.

atomic blonde

Unimaginative use of music is a particular bugbear of mine, and Atomic Blonde features the laziest, most derivative soundtrack since Suicide Squad. London Calling? Check. Bowie's Cat People? Check. Blue Monday? Check. By the time Under Pressure kicked in over the closing credits I was a broken man. For a movie set in 1989 it sure does feature a lot of music from the beginning of that decade.

The film has a simple enough plot, but it goes out of its way to over-complicate things for the sake of a few ineffectual plot twists - there isn't a single character here we don't assume is secretly up to no good. In between the all too infrequent action scenes we're left to watch a new wave reboot of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, with Smiley recast as a Wendie James lookalike who enjoys hanging out in off-the-shoulder designer sweatshirts.

atomic blonde

What few action set-pieces we get are admittedly a visual treat, with Theron performing her own stunts and throwing herself into the physicality of the role like a woman possessed. She's fully convincing as someone capable of kicking the ass of every man she encounters, but that's one of the film's problems, as we never feel she's in over her head. And of course, as the movie is one long flashback, we already know she makes it out in one piece. As such, we're left to coldly observe the technical and physical work on display rather than becoming immersed and invested in the action.

We're not going to get a Jane Bond anytime soon, so mid-budget movies like Atomic Blonde are the closest we can hope for. Give Theron a decent script and a character that's something more than a violent mannequin, and we might have a convincing substitute. Atomic Blonde has some dazzling highlights, but it needs to take better care of its roots.

Atomic Blonde is in UK/ROI cinemas August 9th.