Based upon the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, Atomic Blonde undergoes a change of title (for the better) and delivers on every level I was praying that it would. Set during the Cold War, the film follows MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) as she endeavors to recover a stolen list of double agents – a list that is cripplingly deadly in the wrong hands. And the wrong hands, by the way, would be anyone’s hands.
Okay, look. There are many things one may look for in a quality film. Typically, great story and character rank at – or at least near – the top of the list. And, worry not, Atomic Blonde has a great story and great characters. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. Even. Matter. Why? Well, it doesn’t matter because I barely had the energy to invest in the characters and story due to the fact that the rest of the film was routinely, easily, and quite handily kicking my @$$.
Not only is Atomic Blonde set in the eighties, but it’s also a product of the eighties. It’s essentially a classic eighties film featuring time-traveling stars and filmmakers from 2017. The film is unapologetically and casually explicit, with raw sexuality, bone-splitting brutality, and sensibilities from a time when filmmakers worried not about how audiences would react or what fabricated accusations might be hurled at them by people who are looking for a cause where there is none and instead just made the movies that they, themselves, wanted to see. The result is splendidly refreshing.
While Atomic Blonde does have a layer of depth to the proceedings – especially where Broughton’s arc is concerned, as she searches for anything real in a life constructed of deception – depth is in no way the ultimate goal of the film. Instead, Atomic Blonde dangles a carrot on a stick to our baser instincts. It appeals to our senses – our sight, our hearing, our adrenaline, our libidos – and asks us – maybe even forces us – to, just for two hours, stop pretending that we don’t want the things that we want. It wants us to stop pretending that we don’t enjoy the things that we enjoy. It wants us to acknowledge that we all have someone we’d love to crack upside the head with a telephone. It wants us to acknowledge that we have all seen people on the street who we’ve never met, who we’ve never spoken to, yet who could have gotten us to do anything they wanted with just a look or a single word. Atomic Blonde wants us to acknowledge our primal desires, our biological imperatives . . . our forbidden humanity. It’s joyfully gratuitous and almost becomes a cathartic viewing experience as it allows us to live out the deep-seeded reality of what it means to be an animal pretending at enlightenment.
If that isn’t enough, director David Leitch ensnares a cast enriched by stars who are not only favored by general audiences but are well-respected within the industry and the critical community, as well. I have never heard anyone say anything truly and completely derogatory about Charlize Theron or James McAvoy. Then we have Toby Jones, John Goodman, and burgeoning star Sofia Boutella and this begins to feel like a prestige film. They all play their parts flawlessly and I have personally never been as awed by Charlize Theron as I am after seeing this film. Her Lorraine Broughton is deadly and seductive – the kind of woman that most men (and many women) would love to take to their own home, but not to their mother’s. Theron is striking in the part, ensuring that every single scene has an impact and taking it upon herself to guarantee that the film will be unforgettable and unavoidable in the midst of a mountain of summertime competition. Charlize Theron, despite being surrounded by extraordinary talent at every turn, is Atomic Blonde.
The entire film is kind of like that, actually. Atomic Blonde is the cool kid with a mysterious dark side that you know you shouldn’t hang out with but you’re going to, anyway. It’s the guy with the leather jacket, ripped jeans, and shades. It’s the girl with the plunging neckline, knee-high boots, and short leather miniskirt. It’s that one person who is absolutely cooler than we can ever be, but who makes us feel equally cool when in their presence.
There are elements that are missing from the film that you can find elsewhere. It doesn’t have the heart of Wonder Woman. It doesn’t have the special effects of Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s not as poignant as War for the Planet of the Apes. Or as relatable as The Big Sick. But, again, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be the best at everything – or even anything – because it’s the coolest, man! Atomic Blonde the coolest movie of the year, with the coolest action scenes, the coolest title, the coolest soundtrack, the coolest characters, and a cool new director (who’s coming for Deadpool, next!). I feel like this is the experience everyone else said they were having with Baby Driver but never quite translated to me. But I got it in Atomic Blonde! And you will, too . . . if you aren’t afraid to face your true self.
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