2017 has been a solid year for badass female protagonists. As of now, Wonder Woman is dominating the domestic box office and, before that, there was Dafne Keene as X-23 from Logan, Brie Larson’s Justine from Free Fire, and Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell. Atomic Blonde adds Charlize Theron to that roster in David Leitch’s solo directorial debut. Based on the Oni Press graphic novel, The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, the story revolves around Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron). Equal parts spycraft, sensuality, and savagery, she is willing to deploy any of her skills to stay alive on an impossible mission. Sent alone into Berlin to retrieve a priceless dossier from within the destabilized city, she partners with embedded station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) to navigate her way through a deadly game of spies. There’s just no way I wasn’t going to love this movie unconditionally.
Unlike David Leitch’s previous film John Wick, the reception to Atomic Blonde has been a lot more polarizing. There are, however two major selling points that seem to unify viewers. The first is quite clearly Charlize Theron, who was a producer on top of starring in this film. The passion and commitment she has to her performance oozes from the screen. She has already made her case several times in previous movies proving that she is a formidable actor and action star, but this might actually be her best performance since 2003’s Monster. That passion only helps to elevate everyone else she interacts with, including McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, and John Goodman.
Secondly, director David Leitch has earned the respect of Hollywood and movie fans alike, especially after his efforts as one half of the team behind 2014’s sleeper hit John Wick. Before that film, he and his partner in crime Chad Stahelski spent the majority of their career as stunt choreographers and/or stunt men on movies like The Matrix, Fight Club, and V for Vendetta. That sort of experience makes him the perfect choice to direct any film with this much visceral, stylized action. There are two or three set pieces that may go down in history as some of the best in the genre, one of them involving a weaponized house appliance.
As I mentioned before, not everyone is going to be on the same page with this movie. The biggest issue people take with the film is its story. Even then, however, complaints go in completely different directions. On one hand, people are saying that the plot was too confusing and that they could not make heads or tails out of what was going on. Unless you just weren’t paying attention, the story is fairly straight forward, which makes that critique seem incorrect. Conversely, there is another group who feels as if the plot was too predictable. This is easier to understand, even just based on certain casting decisions and the trail of breadcrumbs that came with it. But, in this genre, predictability is not a bad thing. Movies are about the journey not the destination. Every movie does not need to reinvent the storytelling wheel. That wheel just needs to be sturdy enough to carry the other elements that make the experience worth the price of admission.
Finally, composer Tyler Bates might just be the musical MVP of the year. He has already been the secret boost behind franchises like John Wick and Guardians of the Galaxy. He also is winning repeatedly on television with Season Five of Samurai Jack and the upcoming Punisher series on Netflix. This movie’s 80s setting gives audiences the pleasure of hearing fresh new arrangements of New Order’s “Blue Monday” and Nena’s “99 Luftballons,” as well as other classics from various chart toppers of that decade.
Michael’s Score: 10/10