The marketing for “Atomic Blonde” led me to expect basically a John Wick film but with Charlize Theron as the lead, but the film itself really does feel like its own beast. The Cold War Berlin setting doesn’t just feeling like something in the background, but an integral part of the film, the whole plot much more in the vein of a spy thriller than how the John Wick films, or other such action films, use plot to mainly just string together their setpieces. The last twenty minutes of the film had me properly confused the way a Cold War thriller should.
The action was mostly great, as expected, with the stairwell sequence definitely earning its acclaim. I particularly enjoyed how “grounded”, for want of a better term, Theron felt in the fights…she didn’t win easily, she didn’t feel unstoppable or like a superhero, she fought hard and scrappy and when she won it felt very much earned. That’s a marked difference from the John Wick films, and from the state of action movies in general. Theron wasn’t playing a superhero, or a human with unbelievable stamina, so her fights felt much more tense, exciting, and exhilarating, all pretty important things for an action film.
The inclusion of some of my very favourite bands (Depeche Mode, New Order, etc.) in the soundtrack predisposed me to like the music, but it didn’t just feel like a pandering soundtrack raiding the 80s for hits, as it did some creative moves like use modernised covers of 80s song from earlier in the film to poke at how the film evokes a contemporised version of the 80s drawing as much from films as from actual reality (so says director David Leitch at least).
The first two acts didn’t play half as well as the third for me, as the film felt like a rehash in unexciting ways (perhaps the “sampling – art or plagiarism?” line was a nod to such feelings), but when the action really kicked off in the third act, as well as the twists that really pushed the film from feeling like generic action into proper spy thriller, things worked very well indeed. I give it three cassette tapes, and a key to the face.