7 out of 10
“Atomic Blonde” has been marketed as something of a “John Wick” with a female in the lead, and the truth is that it isn’t accurate. It’s a decent thriller with some really cool action sequences, but it doesn’t nearly reach the awesomely choreographed full-on slaughterfest that is “John Wick.” Instead, it’s a lot more grounded and much more invested in its own style, which is admittedly one of its strong points. However, the film suffers for its unfocused, clichéd plot and its really just bad ending, which is a shame because it has lot of good stuff going on.
Atomic Blonde’s biggest misstep is really that it doesn’t buckle down and focus on what’s important. The fact that its plot is one we’ve seen literally hundreds of times could be forgiven if it told an engaging story, but it just flounders. “Atomic Blonde” spreads itself incredibly thin, trying to introduce way too many characters and tell way too many stories. Besides detracting from the time characters have to be developed, it makes huge chunks of the film boring. Repetitively watching the protagonist meet people or do things that aren’t important to the advancement of the plot just isn’t fun. And then you get to the films ending? “Atomic Blonde” felt like it has three different points where it absolutely could have and probably should’ve ended. It gets bad with the third time it happens, and consequently the ending feels horribly tacked on.
The rough thing about “Atomic Blonde” is that it has so much good stuff going on. Despite not standing up to “John Wick,” the action scenes are still awesome. There’s a lot more hand-to-hand combat than the gunplay-centric “John Wick,” but “Atomic Blonde” shares the brutal heavily choreographed flavor of action. It’s all pretty good, but there’s a stairwell scene in particular that really shines, composed entirely of a single long shot of ruthless action that goes on for at least a couple minutes. But besides its action, “Atomic Blonde” is dripping with style. It’s set during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and it takes full advantage of the era’s subcultures, drawing heavily on the pop and punk movements of the era. One of the most obvious expressions of this is the music the film uses. It’s all the ridiculously catchy pop from the era, and it makes a lot of the scenes work, bringing energy and flavor to them.
One of the other things “Atomic Blonde” gets right is its cast. Everyone is competent, but Charlize Theron does an excellent turn as the protagonist, and I really have to commend her for being able to carry the physicality of her role. However, for me, it was James McAvoy who really stood out in the film. Because of his acting, who his character is was immediately available, allowing him to completely ignore the underdevelopment that the scatterbrained plot would normally impose. He’s a treat every time he’s onscreen, and he’s easily the most engaging character in the film.