Atomic Blonde

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.


Atomic Blonde: Red Band Trailer

Atomic Blonde is an upcoming spy thriller action film directed by David Leitch, John Wick co-creator and future director of the Deadpool sequel. The film is based upon the 2013 graphic novel The Coldest City by Anthony Johnston and will feature a script by Kurt Johnstad. The film will star Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, and John Goodman.

Atomic Blonde, as well as its original source material, tells the story of Lorraine Broughton, an MI-6 agent sent to Berlin to investigate the death of an undercover agent and retrieve a list of every Western officer working in Berlin, which is in possession of a Stasi agent that the undercover man was able to flip, codenamed Spyglass. Set in 1989, the story is set in the backdrop of the extremely volatile and dangerous period  leading up to the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall on November 9th. Lorraine is forced to partner up with Berlin Section head David Percival, and the two forge an uneasy alliance with each other.

As John Wick remains possibly my favorite film of the straight-up action thriller genre, I was immediately interested in what its creators, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, were planning next. Stahelski went on as the sole director of the equally brilliant John Wick: Chapter 2, as Leitch was busy with this new project. As he has been attached to direct this film since early 2015, I immediately purchased and read through the source material as I knew I was automatically going to see this film, as, at the time of writing this, I am automatically interested in anything either of the two men create. The graphic novel presents an old-school le Carré-esque story with much more focus on tradecraft and double agents. That type of story is very much a niche and is not for everyone, as tradecraft and mystery-driven spy thrillers are often deliberately slow moving and cerebral, which is a turn-0ff for mainstream audiences. So when it comes into converting The Coldest City into the action-focused Atomic Blonde….

I have absolutely no objections whatsoever. The trailer starts with a sampling of what I assume will be a breathtaking long take action sequence. I have often described what a long take is in other reviews; it is a portion of the film that is shot continuously, meaning no fancy camera tricks and no breaks. Normally for fight sequences, it’s “kung fu move, cut, kung fu move, cut, kung fu move, cut.” With a long take, there are no breaks. For further examples of long takes, see both seasons of  Daredevil and the first season of True Detective. I am overjoyed that both these two men know to cast people who can actually pull off action sequences like this themselves without a stunt double. Keanu Reeves is apparently immortal, and Charlize Theron has proved her action chops in Mad Max: Fury Road. The sequence in question, though it certainly stole the show in this trailer, is not the only thing of note here. There are several glimpses here of sequences that are sure to give the film’s spiritual predecessor a run for it’s money.

All of this focus on action is not to discount the fact that Charlize Theron is an Academy-Award winner and a truly talented actress in her own right, on top of being physically fit enough to pull off a film like this, and James McAvoy, though overshadowed by X-Men co-star Michael Fassbender, is a very talented actor, whom I hazard will have some awesome highlights of his own throughout the film. On top of that, the wonderfully skeevy Toby Jones is here, being wonderfully skeevy. With such plot-heavy source material to work with, even though they are certainly not following the graphic novel to the letter, there’s more than enough to create an engaging plot; if you can make one of the most engaging action films in the past few decades using a dog and a car, a good story with the material here should not be hard at all.

Atomic Blonde might sound like a cheap California-produced porno, but make no mistake; this neo-noir spy film, directed by the guy who created one of my favorite films of all time, starring a very beautiful, award-winning, and talented actress and a woefully underrated and talented Scotsman, is officially my most anticipated film of the summer. Atomic Blonde is set to be released on July 28th, 2017.

John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 is a 2017 American neo-noir action film written and directed by Chad Stahelski. It is a sequel to the 2014 sleeper hit John WickChapter 2 sees Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, and Thomas Sadoski reprising their roles from the previous film. Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, and Common are introduced as the film’s major antagonists. Picking up where the first film left off, after dispatching several men in particularly brutal and awesome fashion and retrieving his beloved 1969 Boss 429 that was stolen in the previous film, John “The Boogeyman” Wick returns to his retirement. He is approached by an old associate, who calls in a “marker” on John. A marker is a blood oath one makes to another in return for a favor. As it turns out, Santino D’Antonio assisted Wick with the “impossible task” which let our protagonist leave the shadowy world of assassination. D’Antonio, son of a crime lord who had a seat at the mysterious High Table, wants Wick to kill his sister, who was willed her father’s seat after his death. Wick reluctantly accepts the conditions of the marker, leading to an action-packed thrill ride across Rome and New York.

I feel I can say this without exaggeration: John Wick: Chapter 2 is a perfect sequel. Chapter 2 takes everything great about the previous film and doubles down. It is the most satisfying action movie I have seen since the original. The original John Wick relied on a purposefully barebones plot of revenge for puppy-murder to set up a fully-realized world and showcase some truly epic action sequences. John Wick did something that a lot of action movies fail to do, and that is world-building, like I mentioned before. The original film established that a secret shadow society exists, a world of assassins, made up of assassins. They apparently have The Continental, a five-star hotel and safe haven for assassins that operates on unique currency and gold coins. This shadow society has a complex ecosystem and a set of rules and regulations that cannot be broken. Every character has a fully-realized and fleshed-out backstory that is not fully divulged to the audience on purpose, in order to add a sense of mystique to this already mysterious world. That is where the real magic is. On top of the amazing action sequences, you become invested in this complex society you know very little about, and that is the coolest part of these films. Chapter 2 manages to greatly expand the scope of this shadow world while continuing to divulge very little, leaving you captivated. It’s a Wonderland of Death, and it is awesome.

The action sequences in Chapter 2 make those of its predecessor look unimpressive in comparison. I say that knowing full-well that the original gave us this…

Chapter 2‘s opening sequence, in which John lays siege to a chop shop to retrieve his beloved muscle car, gives the club scene a run for its money, and there is a full ten-minute sequence that begins at a party in Rome, moves to the catacombs, and culminates with a hand-to-hand battle with Common’s character in the streets that is quite simply, the most intricate and engrossing action set piece I have ever seen.

In case you were curious as to why the fight scenes in both films are so engrossing and satisfying, allow me to explain them from a technical aspect. The original John Wick was a two-man directorial effort by legendary stuntmen Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. Both men were the masterminds behind the action sequences in The Matrix. For their first big project in which they were in charge, they took from many diverse inspirations that included other films, as well as anime and video games. They also needed someone who is capable of performing stunts with an unbelievable amount of physicality. Keanu Reeves is the perfect man for that job.

Usually, in films like Taken, The Bourne Identity, or RED, the main actors are too old/it’s too complicated to perform their own stunts, so they have to use a stunt double. In order to keep the audience’s suspension of disbelief intact, they have to trick your brain/hide the fact that guy isn’t really Liam Neeson/Bruce Willis/Matt Damon. They do this by using a technique called shaky cam, which is exactly like it sounds. They also use a lot of quick cuts every second to disorient you, which leads to stuff that looks like this:

This is how shaky cam/cutting can still be effective in an action sequence
This is shaky cam at it’s absolute worst…

With films like John Wick and its sequel, which don’t need to disorient and confuse their audience (because Keanu Reeves is simply a top-tier specimen of a man), you get something marvelous: stabilized, coherent, smooth sequences of action with minimal cuts and maximum awesomeness.giphy

Since the movie came out on Friday, I could not find a good GIF showcasing the sheer awesomeness that is Chapter 2, but trust me when I tell you that it is breathtaking. There is a scene (a part of the sequence in Rome that I mentioned earlier) where Wick gets into a brutal street fight with Common’s character, in which they continually toss themselves down three flights of stairs. Common ends up on the ground, with John still standing attempting to shoot him, but Common uses Wick’s body to spin around and doge the bullets. I know that makes no sense and I’ve only seen the film once and my description is probably inaccurate, but something with spins and bullets happens. It’s glorious. Everything is awesome.

Needless to say, the cinematography is very much on point; the acting in the film is also excellent. The John Wick series itself is an exceedingly self-aware throwback to hamtastic action flicks like Roadhouse and Commando, in terms of plot. Keanu Reeves is a decent actor with very little range. This means he is the perfect actor of this generation to pull off cheesy one-liners a la Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator and actually make it work.

I am well aware that I continue to use footage from John Wick in my review of Chapter 2. This is due to the lack of public footage of the recently released sequel, but this is not detrimental to my review of the sequel, because like any great sequel, it takes the familiarity of the previous work and adds a fresh new twist on it; Chapter 2 is a seamless continuation of the original, and just takes everything and makes it better. It entirely avoids the pitfalls of simply “being more of the same” and instead builds upon the original with a ton of new stuff. It is a great sequel, as well as simply a great film by itself that completely avoids using the original as a crutch in any way.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is an awesome movie and a perfect sequel, again maintaining a perfect balance of self-aware cheese and bone-crunching brutality. It drops you into a world with so many mysteries and institutions you can’t help but be a little bit curious how things go. Even my mother, who is not a big fan of action movies, seems to be genuinely interested in seeing how things play out in the next installment. (Trust me, there will be a next installment.) Yes, I feel like the action is the main draw here, but even if you could care less, you will find something captivating about Chapter 2, even if you didn’t care for the original at all. Universality of enjoyment is the mark of a truly great film. John Wick: Chapter 2 is a truly great film, and you should go see it.