Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Dress To Kill and Fight Like A Girl

An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents. 

Movies like Atomic Blonde, with this type of spy thriller, are a bit of a throwback. Plus, setting this story at the very beginning of a new era, of technological modernity where spycraft is more about computers and digital surveillance, gives it a sense of nostalgia that Bond or Bourne could never achieve today. Atomic Blonde keeps its plot as simple as possible. This film is based on The Coldest City graphic novel by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart.

Atomic Blonde is an excuse to watch a beautiful, deviously clever female avatar as she is stripped naked, dolled up and repeatedly beaten down only to rise again. Dress her up, dress her down, smack her around and wait for payback. This sort of spectacle isn’t new, even if moviemakers like to insist otherwise. What is moderately different here is the sexed-up packaging of the violence in combination with Ms. Theron physicality. Like James Bond, her character, Lorraine shoots to kill while remaining fabulously dressed to kill. This means she gets slammed around a lot and takes almost as much punishment as she gives. She is a punching bag, but she is also a fantasist’s dream girl, a sort of avenging goddess, a destroyer of men. Indeed, for her part, Ms. Theron looks hot and color coordinated. With black-and-white outfits that suit her character’s ambiguity. Lorraine smokes and drinks and likes cold baths, preferably filled with ice cubes that do wonders for bruises and nipples. When she isn’t moodily bathing or staring, she does a surprising amount of walking. She goes here, promenades there, strolls down halls and mean streets that the director David Leitch turns into fashion runways. 

Though, building off of her previous work in films like Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron continues to prove herself to be one of the most talented action stars of her generation. She is given the difficult task of switching between two very different gears when playing Lorraine: the slick and calculated MI6 agent who must keep a low profile whenever she can, and the savage, ruthless killer all of her enemies face the moment the first shot is fired or fist is thrown. She pulls both sides of the character off with ease and throws herself into the action sequences with a tenacity and dedication that makes her one of the most believable action heroes in recent memory. Ms. Theron truly is ready to play Bond. However, James McAvoy sidles into the story looking all cool or something and wearing a smirk he needs to employ more cautiously.

You should have understood by now that what this ‘80s style spy thriller does very well is its fight scenes. Not surprising with John Wick co-director and former stuntman David Leitch literally calling the shots. In terms of action technicality, it is a very different film, replacing Keanu Reeves quick, precise gun shots with a more brutal weight and physicality. John Wick clearly is a model of economic genre filmmaking, and David Leitch gives this movie’s action scenes the same pummelling, visceral quality. Lorraine punches and is punched, and her body is soon mapped by bruises and abrasions. It’s a lot of abuse for such little returns, even if the fights are the best parts of Atomic Blonde Mr. Leitch understands the expressivity of hand-to-hand fights and he frames them accordingly, pushing in when it counts and pulling back to show entire bodies in whirling motion. The stunts truly are breathtaking, with one brutal fight shot in a long hand-held sequence that roams down stairs, through an apartment and into a car chase.

While it is not a first to see, a woman battered about to this extent on screen, it is unusual. Most of Lorraine’s opponents are male, and none hold back. It would be deeply disturbing was it almost anyone but Theron; she projects such formidable badassitude that it does not for a moment read like victimisation. Broughton uses whatever is to hand, and leverages her enemies’ own momentum against them, so you believe she could hold her own. Moreover, there is no talking about Atomic Blonde without giving a shout-out to its soundtrack. Composed by Tyler Bates, who also did the two Guardians of the Galaxy films, the electric score pumps through the film. But more than that are the song choices. Prepare to download the soundtrack as soon as you walk out of the cinema. Don’t fight it, it’s an inevitability.

Overall, Atomic Blonde is an action spy thriller, that leans more heavily into being a John Wick film than it does a John le CarrĂ©-esque espionage tale. The battle between those two tones can be occasionally distracting throughout the runtime though. But Atomic Blonde has plenty of attitude and the fervent style of its execution is so exciting to watch that it made it one of the best times I have had in the theatre this year.

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