At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Atomic Blonde “2017”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Atomic Blonde “2017”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Action Thriller/Stars: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Roland Møller, Jóhannes Jóhannesson, James Faulkner, Barbara Sukowa, Sam Hargrave, Bill Skarsgård, Daniel Bernhardt/Runtime: 115 minutes

I think it’s safe to say that if you took the time to ask a group of about 100 adults what is one of the most iconic decades in the past 100 years, it would not surprise me in the least if a fair amount of those people said the 1980s. I mean not only did we get some amazing movies in that era, but the music was phenomenal, the culture was radical man, and there was a little something simmering in the background on the political stove known as the Cold War. Yet despite the era being one that was both easy-going yet with a hint of politics-charged fear, it really is quite something to see how, a solid 4 decades later, much our world has changed due to not only the demolition of the infamous Berlin Wall, but also in just how far we as a society have come in terms of technology and its impact on particular arenas of life like say government espionage operatives for example. I mean say what you will about the positives of cellular devices, drones, or even social media in how a spy does their job, but they really tragically have taken the old school 007-style cloak and dagger days of the good ol’ spy game and made them very much a thing of the past. Fortunately, for those of us who would like the chance to go back and witness such spy elements as covert meetings, people having to acquire intel for themselves, and messages being sent out via code then the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, 2017’s Atomic Blonde, is most assuredly your brand of martini. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that this visceral and just plain cool film also contains quite a bit of gritty action to go along with it. Suffice it to say then that this film is very much one that operates as a wonderful throwback spy saga in terms of setting, hardcore action, double/triple crosses galore, copious amounts of alcohol, and a freaking sweet 80s soundtrack to boot.  To be sure, this movie definitely does operate with certain common components to its respective genre including a rather intricate spy game-style narrative that will require you to keep track of all the players and be more than prepared to handle a series of obligatory twists and turns in said narrative. At the same time though, it’s also most assuredly a film that is just as willing to be defined by a phenomenal sense of style and flair to say nothing of a collection of hard-hitting action beats that are sure to leave you on the edge of your seat. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in a collection of top-tier performances in front of the camera as well, there is no denying that Atomic Blonde is a delightful, engaging, and extremely well-made throwback film that should prove to make for a fantastic alternate option to seeing any of the Bond films for a 6th time in a row (especially any of the ones that had Lazenby in the role).

The plot is as follows: Taking place in the week before the Berlin Wall came a’tumbling down in the long-ago year known as 1989, Atomic Blonde gets its twisty narrative underway as we witness a member of that elite group known as MI6 by the name of James Gascoigne is swiftly and ruthlessly assassinated by a KGB agent known as Yuri Bakhtin who then proceeds, in what I can only guess is the result of the screenwriter clearly watching either the original Mission: Impossible film from 1996 or 2012’s Skyfall too many times whilst writing this, to steal a top-secret document from him that has the identities of every single covert operative that is operating in Berlin, both East as well as West. From there, the film moves ahead a solid ten days to jolly ol’ London where another top operative for MI6 named Lorraine Broughton is called in to MI6 headquarters in order to be debriefed, through a combined MI6 and CIA agent pair, about how HER assignment in Berlin went down. An assignment that began the day after Gascoigne’s death and which saw Broughton be assigned by her superiors to head to Berlin herself to try and recover the list. Upon her arrival in the split in half city, we see that our butt kicking heroine is quickly able to make contact with a long-serving fellow MI6 operative named David Percival. A wild child of a man who, among other noteworthy attributes, is someone who is very much satisfied with the avant-garde lifestyle his posting in Berlin has managed to afford him and doesn’t seem all that happy with Broughton’s arrival due to viewing it as possible oversight from London in order to keep an eye on him to say nothing of his actions. Along with that, we also see that Broughton is also able to form a rather distinct alliance with a rookie operative from France named Delphine Lasalle. Thus with the city acting like a extremely volatile powder keg about ready to explode to say nothing of government agencies from across the planet all desperate to get their hands on the object of her search can our tough as nails heroine figure out who she genuinely can trust whilst battling off waves of henchmen or is this one assignment that is about to end rather badly, and above all how is all of this, if any of it, tied back into the debriefing that she is going through back in London? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader…..

Now right off, it is worth noting that the work done behind the camera on this cinematic spy game is fairly well done all things considered. This starts with the fact that this film, in many respects, definitely feels like a graphic novel come to life (which, given the film’s original source material makes a lot of sense). Indeed the work done by the cinematography department not only does a fantastic job of utilizing spray paint fonts that I would half expect to see more at a punk rock concert (and I probably did in 2019 Berlin come to think) than in a spy thriller, soaks more than one locale in Berlin in neon colors all whilst making sure the outside wintery shots are very bleak and gray, and even manages to engage in that infamous action movie component known as bullet-time in order to showcase for us the moments where the violence gets more than a wee bit on the visceral side. Along with that, we also see that the work done by the costume design department does a grand job at putting the characters in this in attire that are very much on-point for the decade that the film is taking place in. Weaving its way through the movie though is top-tier work from the music department who manage to give movie goers’ ears a genuine treat here courtesy of an incredible spot-on soundtrack of 80s hits to propel the action forward even though I must confess that I am more than quite a bit surprised that nowhere on this slice of cinema’s genuinely rockin’ soundtrack is the song Atomic from the iconic group Blondie (maybe it was just viewed as too much a bit on the nose). With that in mind though, there is perhaps one element of the work done behind the camera on this that might not be as up to par as perhaps it should be. That being that the story on this film, from the scribe of no less a film than 300 (THIS IS BERLIN!!!), tends to be a wee bit on the predictable side. I mean not only can you pretty much guess the arc for every major character in this, but when the collection of double/triple crosses happen in this you have already figured them out to say nothing of who is involved in them. With that said though, this is a film that I have no doubt the majority of you have chosen to give a watch due to the action beats and thankfully in that regard this is one slice of cinema that most assuredly delivers on that front. Indeed, unlike John Wick who just enjoys shooting people in the head, the character of Lorraine Broughton is one who enjoys beating people up and it shows as the action department does an incredible job, in terms of both choreography and brutality, at ensuring that their leading lady in this is able to punch and kick through seemingly every bad guy who is unfortunate enough to cross her path. Finally, I also think praise should also be afforded to the work done by the editing department for giving this film what is undoubtedly the ace in the deck so to speak in the form of a solid 10-minute scene where we see our heroine engage in fisticuffs through multiple rooms, doors, halls, staircases, and even out on the street against a literal swarm of bad guys. I mean not only is it incredibly lively, but the skill needed to capture it all, and in one take at that, is truly nothing short of remarkable.

Of course, the other big element that helps this cinematic spy saga work on the level that it is ultimately able to would undoubtedly have to be in the form of the work done by the extremely well-chosen cast of players in front of the camera as well. This starts with Charlize Theron who is nothing short of brilliant in the lead role of Lorraine Broughton. Indeed, as fantastically portrayed by Theron, here is a woman intelligence operative who is equally as skilled at using her intellect, to say nothing of a fondness for Stoli on the rocks, to get out of a messy situation as she is at either beating the crud out of a guy with one of her stiletto heels or jumping out a window with a hose tied around a dude’s neck as a support to keep from falling. Yet even though this brilliant mix of skilled, intuitive, and driven operates as an already brilliant mix for this genuinely icy character, we also see that Theron does a wonderful job of every so often providing just the tiniest hint of warmth in order to convince us that we are still following a human being and not the latest TX model from Terminator 3. Suffice it to say that for awhile now Theron has been one of Hollywood’s more gifted actresses and this just makes for further proof of that and then some. Equally as good as Theron is in this however is James McAvoy who looks like he is having an absolute blast in his role of fellow British agent David Percival. Indeed McAvoy has long been one of my favorite actors and here he does a grand job at playing this cocky and more than slightly sleazy agent who has become more than content with being able to do, for all intents and purposes, whatever he wants in Berlin yet who also has more than his share of secrets or two hiding up his sleeve as well. Suffice it to say that it is an wonderfully despicable turn and one that McAvoy pulls off with gusto and enthusiasm to spare. We also see that this film provides gifted actress Sofia Boutella with a good, albeit tragically underwritten, role in the form of a novice French agent by the name of Delphine that our heroine keeps crossing paths with whilst on her mission. Indeed, as previously stated, it might not be the best written role in the world, but even so there is still no denying that Boutella manages to do a fairly good job at making it her own. Finally, I also think praise should be given here to both Toby Jones and John Goodman for both bringing their respective A-games to the roles of Broughton’s debriefers in the forms of senior MI6 agent Eric Gray and long-time CIA agent Emmet Kurtzfield respectively. Indeed both of these men on their own are already iconic character actors to begin with, but to have both of them be in the same movie to say nothing of actually sharing screentime together it really does make their moments together in the film something truly special even if one of them (without going into any spoilers) gets a wee bit more to do in the overall grand scheme of things than the other. Suffice it to say that when you also manage to incorporate into this spy vs. spy cinematic mix some game efforts from such talents as Til Schweiger, James Faulkner, the always delightful English character actor Eddie Marsan, and even a brief yet pivotal extended cameo role of sorts from Bill Skarsgård among others respectively I think it can safely be said that there might be some problems here and there with this film, but the work done by this cast of players should most assuredly not be viewed as one of them.

All in all and at the end of the day, is Atomic Blonde a perfect slice of spy game cinema? Honestly no. Having said that though, is this the worst thing to happen to the spy genre of movie magic since Austin Powers in Goldmember? Not even close though I will say that Michael Caine was quite brilliantly cast as Austin’s dad in that movie. Rather, I would simply say that whilst this slice of cinema most assuredly does have the ingredients to be a genuinely great film, the fact that the plot is as predictable as it ultimately turns out to be to say nothing of a few other issues scattered here and there does result in this film being one that sadly has to settle for being no less than a very good albeit fun time to be had. Suffice it to say then that if you are looking for a great spy movie then definitely check out 2012’s Skyfall, 2006’s Casino Royale, or even Sean Connery’s entire run as 007 (and yes I am choosing to include Never Say Never Again from 1983 in that line-up). On the other hand, if you are looking for a fun, stylish, neon-drenched spy flick that plays like the 80s equivalent to the first Mission: Impossible movie in some ways then definitely give this film a try. Thus and at the end of the day Atomic Blonde might not have been the most explosive new spy movie on the market when it was released back in 2017, but with the aid of lively and engaging work on both sides of the camera there is no denying that it is very much one fun and entertaining entry that I have no doubt you and the fellow cinematic espionage lovers in your life will take great joy in watching time and time again. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Atomic Blonde “2017” a solid 3.5 out of 5.