Thursday, 10 August 2017

Review: Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde (vague spoilers in the footnotes)
Cert: 15 / 115 mins / Dir. David Leitch / Trailer

If only the film industry could learn to adapt violent video games for the cinema as well as they do violent comics. I think we'd all be better off.

Working from 2012's The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde follows Charlize Theron as British special agent Lorraine Broughton, assigned by her superior (Toby Jones) to Berlin in November 1989, the week the wall comes down, to track down rogue agent David Percival (James McAvoy) and retrieve a stolen list of operative identities before it's sold to the highest bidder on the international market*1. There will be, as I believe the kids are saying nowadays, scenes...

With a fashionably desaturated colour palette and achingly hipster-friendly late 80s soundtrack, David Leitch's film gets off to a bold, if somewhat clinical, start. True to BBFC form for a 15-rated movie, the blood may not pool on the floor but that's not to say there isn't plenty of it splattered across the walls with dripping, artistic precision. And it's this detached feeling that lingers throughout, making the film almost difficult to like. While the audience will be impressed by what they see, calling it 'fun' almost feels like being complicit in the merciless beatdowns issued by Broughton and Percival. The only smiles to be found in this movie are ones of malice or sarcasm.

And yet, there are wry laughs to be had in Kurt Johnstad's screenplay, dryer than a sandpaper Martini. Theron is amazing as always*2, as is McAvoy. Toby Jones and John Goodman hold the fort in largely 'office-based' roles, and it seems like Sofia Boutella is finally being cast as an actress rather than a gymnast*3.

The story is as twisty-turny as you'd want from this sort of thing, but with few enough characters that it never becomes unnecessarily confusing. And while needle-drop soundtracks have been my bugbear this year, everything chosen here fits the ethos of the film and blends with Tyler Bates' score effortlessly.

But the pièce de résistance has to be that fight sequence. Taking place across three floors of a building, utilising guns, knives, fists and at one point a pair of standard-lamps, producing a quantity of corpses I won't divulge here, and lasting a good six or seven minutes all in a single unbroken shot... I don't know how much they're paying cinematographer Jonathan Sela or the fight-choreography team, but give them a bonus. It's a genuine thrill to watch cinematic precision of this calibre.

Once you get into the rhythm of the film, Atomic Blonde is an absolute visceral joy to watch. But no sequel, no spin-offs, no remakes. You got that, Leitch? Leave this one to bask in its own glory.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Kingsman, John Wick, Free Fire, Scarface.
Oh, hell yeah

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
Yes, but it should hold up just as well in your living room, provided you don't have noise-sensitive neighbours.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
No, but there's no shame in that with a cast this strong.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shouldn't think so.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There is.
And there's a boot-shot

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: James McAvoy and James Faulkner feature in this movie, and they were both in that X-Men: First Class alongside Rose 'Dormé' Byrne.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 You're right, that's not entirely unlike 1996's Mission: Impossible, but I'm assuming this is a fairly common trope in spy fiction. No biggie. Besides, this is a great movie and so is Mission: Impossible. [ BACK ]

*2 That said, her 'British' accent is all over the place. The film's final scene almost excuses this as a plot device, but if that's the case then she's the crappest secret agent this side of Austin Powers. [ BACK ]

*3 Although there is one scene which felt distinctly For The Dads, slightly off kilter with the rest of the movie and without sufficient groundwork either before or after to give it the meaning you know is intended. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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