Atomic Blonde (2017) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2017]

A beautiful but deadly MI6 agent is sent to Berlin in 1989, right at the time the wall is about to be taken down, so that she can navigate her way through the cities and the web of spies and double agents there to get her hands on a list of them with powerful information.

Based on the novel series “The Coldest City” written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart, Atomic Blonde’s screenplay was written by Kurt Johnstad and directed by David Leitch, Atomic Blonde takes the action film/spy film genre and has fun with it.  The film is not much more than a series of excuses to put Charlize Theron in fights and throw twists and turns at the viewer.  The fact that it works this well is a testament to those behind the scenes, the creators, writer, and director, as well as the cast and crew.  The film has a few pacing issues but when it good, it’s great.  The story is that of a spy, so double crosses and other twists are expected with a few being easily guessed, especially for fans of the genre, but the way the film is written and advances makes those few predictable moments less of an annoyance and easily forgiven.

The whole entire film seems to be built around what lead Charlize Theron can do from accents to languages to hand to hand combat to gunfights.  As she has trained heavily for this film, it shows through the fight sequences and gives her some badass cred on top of what she already had, especially after Fury Road.  The woman is a fighter and can do most of her own stunts from what she has discussed before the release of this and it shows.  Of course, some scenes may have required the help of a stuntwoman or person, but even the lead into those works.  James McAvoy plays a good other spy here, who has adapted to living between the two Berlins and gets what he wants.  The way McAvoy plays him gives him attitude and cockiness.  He’s a good counterpart to Theron’s lead and they work well together here.  Of course, the whole film is full of spies, allies, and enemies, with each actor working their part with some mystery, some vagueness as to which side of the story they fall on.

The film here wouldn’t work without all the stunt work.  From fight coordinator Jon Valera to the fight choreography team, everyone does fantastic work here.  Where the film loses a few points however is its use of CGI blood which can take the viewer right out a sequence.  One particular scene is really bad on that front, but it is thankfully kept to quick looks at the CGI wound and its related blood.  There is also so good, non-CGI fake blood involved more than once and it works great, looking more realistic and feeling more organic to the scenes.

Other strong points of the film are the score by Tyler Bates and the soundtrack composed of late 80s hits that most people should recognize.  One particular song is used twice to great effect.  It’s a small detail that adds a lot to the film.  Of course the use of Nena’s 99 Luftballons is a bit too on the nose in terms of being one of the rare few big German hits most North American audiences know.  Something a bit less known may have worked a touch better.  That is however the only mild complaint about the absolutely tubular soundtrack.

Atomic Blonde is an exhilarating, fun film.  The action is almost non-stop which causes the slower scenes mixed in to show the pacing issues the film has.  The action is the best part of the film with insane fights and crazy stunts from the lead and others in the cast.  The soundtrack is terrific and so well used that it puts other 80s to late 80s set recent movies to shame.  Atomic Blonde is to Charlize Theron what John Wick is to Keanu Reeves, it shows they can do action, they can kick ass, and they need to do more of this genre.  The badass that is this film is reminiscent not only of John Wick in terms of fights and even color patterns at times, it also reminds of a bit of James Bond mixed with Salt with touches of what Helen Mirren’s Red character would have been earlier in her career.  It’s a great summer film and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 13th to August 2nd.