Atomic Blonde is a 2017 action thriller spy film directed by David Leitch and written by Kurt Johnstad. Based upon the graphic novel The Coldest City by Anthony Jonson and Sam Hart, the film follows MI-6 officer Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize Theron, as she is sent into Berlin in November 1989, directly preceding the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the civil unrest that followed, to recover a list containing the names of every Allied and Soviet operative currently active. Lorraine meets up with David Percival, played by James McAvoy, MI-6’s top man in Berlin. Lorraine must learn to navigate the city and work with some shady individuals in order to recover this list.
If the plot of Atomic Blonde sounds disappointingly generic to you, that’s because it is. This film suffers a lot from a presumably low-effort script from Johnstad, the man behind such high-minded brilliance as both 300 films and Act Of Valor. Those are his only screenplay credits. Why anyone would hire this guy to make a memorable screenplay is beyond me and I was disappointed they didn’t find anyone that would try harder. The really infuriating thing about that is there are some would-be decent twists in this film, but the plot surrounding these twists is so meh I didn’t really care. This movie would be so much more interesting if there was a reason to really give a crap, but Johnstad instead uses a plot we’ve seen a dozen times before and does nothing interesting with it. Johnstad instead decided to rip off two of the most entertaining spy films in recent years. 1996’s Mission: Impossible and the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall both had the “spy list” plot, but both were able to turn it on it’s head and make it unique, which is, I think, part of the reason why those two films were so good and why they are still established and well-recieved franchises to this day. Skyfall actually said “screw the stupid list” at the halfway point and jettisoned the generic Macguffin for something better. Johnstad, in contrast, copy-pasted “spy story” from the internet and put it on a piece of paper.
I should mention that Atomic Blonde uses the cliche “in the interrogation room after everything went down with the main plot presented as a flashback.” These scenes feature veteran actors Toby Jones and John Goodman asking Broughton questions about events that happened throughout the film, interrupting the main Berlin narrative. These scenes accomplish nothing and bring the film to a screeching halt. Literally nothing is said or done in these scenes that it would be considered important to leave them in, and I’m not exactly sure why they did at all.
The acting from both Charlize Theron and James McAvoy is top notch, with McAvoy’s performance being something unrelated to the action that I really enjoyed. Sofia Boutella’s performance as a naive French Intelligence officer, though, left something to be desired. That’s another problem I had with the film, and of course, it’s related to the script. Spy films are, by their nature, full of twists, lies, and betrayal. There are usually several key players in the fold of the story to keep things interesting. There’s not a lot of room to manuver with twists when you just have three extremely underwritten, generic, and boring characters to work with. That’s all this dude thought was necessary and he was very wrong. I wish to reiterate that the screenwriter is a giant and near-fatal detriment to what could have been a extremely interesting and engrossing stylized spy film.
This is not to say the movie isn’t without its merits. Far from it, in fact; Atomic Blonde benefits from masterful directing from David Leitch, co-director of John Wick, which I found to be very entertaining. Make no mistake, he and Chapter 2 director Chad Stahelski are masters of Hollywood action and are quickly rising on my list of favorite modern directors. This film does not change that at all, because despite not being absorbed by the plot at all, Leitch was still able to present an extremely stylish Berlin, complete with a competent and catchy soundtrack of classic tunes that you would be remiss not to find on the radio at the time. The former stuntman’s signature balls-to-the-wall action continues to be present in full force here. Not to spoil anything, but there is a sequence approximately 3/4ths of the way through the film that I believe puts even the director’s previous works on notice. Atomic Blonde is efficient from a technical standpoint on nearly every level. David Leitch’s directing is this film’s saving grace, taking it from utterly forgettable to somewhat memorable and fun despite itself.
Atomic Blonde was a film that I was actually very much looking forward to, due to it being directed by Leitch. In some very critical ways, I was disappointed. In other ways, I was very impressed. I came in wanting brilliant action sequences. If I got that, I was going to be satisfied. Thankfully, I was. Sadly, I was secretly hoping to be more than satisfied. Due to the production hiring a lazy bum to write a script, Atomic Blonde was nothing more than “pretty darn good.” The visuals, action, and music were top notch, but the script is so heartwrenchingly lazy that the film gets tied down by it. I really feel that anyone could’ve done a better job. Even so, I was entertained. Atomic Blonde is a kind of movie where it really depends on what you came for, so I leave it up to you. I enjoyed it. You may very well not, and that is understandable.