Jason Bourne: Look at what I can do with a rolled up newspaper and a book!
Lorraine (from Atomic Blonde): Hold my beer *grabs water hose*
John Wick: That's cute *brandishes a #2 pencil*
Atomic Blonde is the latest in a long line of action movies that feature a singular bad-ass on a mission of some kind to take down all the bad guys. But wait! This time, the lead character is a woman, making this the first time in film history a woman has ever kicked ass! Sarcasm notwithstanding, let me give you a proper synopsis of this thing.
Starring Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton and directed by David Leitch, Atomic Blonde is a spy action thriller, adapted from the graphic novel, The Coldest City, that takes place in 1989 Berlin, Germany, mere days before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Amidst the Cold War era tension, MI6 has reason to believe that the Russian KGB has murdered one of its agents and acquired "the List," which is some sort of hard drive that contains the names and personal information of many British and other Western operatives. Eric Gray, played by Toby Jones, brings Lorraine in to help MI6 to investigate the circumstances of the killed agent's death and recover the List before the KGB uses it to compromise countless MI6 agents. As soon as Lorraine lands in Berlin, nothing is what it seems and she must learn quickly who she can trust and who is trying to double cross her. Let the convoluted and highly stylized espionage thrills begin!
What Was Good?
This movie goes all in on convincing you Charlize Theron is a one lady wrecking ball and a lean, mean, Russian-killing machine, and I must say that I bought it. Theron has a great physicality in Atomic Blonde and shows off impressive action choreography and fighting skills that you don't see from Hollywood A-listers outside of Keanu Reeves. If you come for fun spy, action fight sequences, you're not going to be disappointed. There's one scene in particular that is brutally mesmerizing; fans of the Netflix series Daredevil will notice many similarities with the scene in Atomic Blonde and two key ones in the series, one taking place in a hallway, the other taking place in a stairwell. While this particular scene is a stand out moment in the movie, just about every fight scene or action scene in the movie is a lot of fun to watch and provides the movie its primary entertainment value.
I also really enjoy the performances in this movie, in particular those of Charlize Theron and James McAvoy. Their banter back and forth made for some solid entertainment and comedic relief that broke up the gruesome violence and darker tones of the movie. McAvoy continues to amaze me as an actor. In the last 5 or so years, he's established himself as one of the best and, more importantly, most versatile actors working today. Am I saying that this was one of his best performances? Absolutely not. But I'm just saying it was a unique addition to his filmography and he was dang entertaining in it.
Here's a quick note on the soundtrack. If you enjoy the synthesized rock ballads of the '80s, you're going to love the Atomic Blonde soundtrack. Ever since 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy delighted audiences with its '60s and '70s infested soundtrack, it seems like more and more action movies are trying to duplicate the results. We've seen it now with 2016's Suicide Squad and this year's Baby Driver and now Atomic Blonde. The key difference is in Guardians of the Galaxy and Baby Driver, the soundtrack is not only stylish and full of nostalgia; it also actually has an impact and is incorporated with the characters in their respective movies. The soundtrack for Atomic Blonde does not have that kind of depth. While I've seen other reviews make similar distinctions, it actually doesn't bother me. I love how the soundtrack in Guardians and Baby Driver are used so well, but I also enjoy the stylistic flavor that Atomic Blonde's soundtrack adds to the movie. I ultimately still think it's a positive.
What Was Bad?
Unfortunately, in spite of its thrilling action, Atomic Blonde is sort of a mess from a narrative standpoint. Lacking the effective simplicity of the John Wick series and the well-executed political sophistication of the Bourne trilogy, Atomic Blonde falls awkwardly in the middle of those two great action franchises and becomes a kick ass thriller that tries to be more, but ends up miring itself in an incoherent plot with confusing character motivations. I won't spoil anything about this movie for my readers, assuming that you're all reading this to determine whether or not you should see it. However, I will tell you that in the last 10 minutes, the movie throws in about 3 or 4 plot twists that completely undo every aspect of the story that's occurred in the previous 100 minutes. I feel like the filmmakers behind this movie wanted the audience's response during the credits to be, "Woah! What?! That was nuts!". Unfortunately, when the credits rolled for me, I went "Woah! What?!.........wait a minute, that doesn't make sense."
The sign of a good plot twist (or twists) is that when you look back at the movie you just watched, you think "Oh wow, so that explains THIS part, and if THAT's true, then THIS is also true!...." and your mind gets progressively more blown as you unravel the rest of what you thought you saw. The context of the whole film changes as a result of the twist. When you look back at Atomic Blonde through the lens of its twists, however, you no longer understand why anyone did any of the things they did. The writers for this movie threw in twists for the sake of having twists because it was a spy movie, and that's what spy movies do. That type of laziness makes me pretty angry, especially when this movie really did have a lot of promise to be something special. Instead, Atomic Blonde is a Frankenstein monster of a movie that cherrypicks aspects of John Wick, Jason Bourne, and every other spy action thriller in the last 20 years and mashes them all together.
What Should Catholics Know?
Unfortunately, there's not much good here for Catholic viewers. Aside from the obvious spy vs. spy blood and violence that you were promised in the trailers, Atomic Blonde features a fairly graphic lesbian sex scene. In an attempt to present same sex relationships as beautiful and admirable in nature, consistent with today's society's agenda to do the same, Atomic Blonde uses this scene as a spring board for Theron and Sofia Boutella's characters' (a French spy) blooming romantic relationship. In an interview with Movie Pilot, Theron addresses the scene, saying, "...I just feel that this [LGBTQ] community is not represented the way that it should be in film. Actors are always talking about reflecting society in media, but if we're gonna do that, we should really do that. I could have hooked up with a guy, but it's great that I hooked up with a girl. I'm proud of that." It's clear that Theron and Hollywood as a whole are making deliberate efforts to normalize homosexual behavior in mainstream media and society. If that's their agenda, so be it. But for Catholics, it's important to remember that while Christ and His Church love and welcome all people, including members of the LGBQT community, they do not condone indulging in homosexual acts or behavior. This distinction of "loving the sinner but hating the sin" is important for Catholics and members of society who value conservative social norms to remember. If you go to see this movie, don't fall into the trap of using the emotional empathy Theron generates for her character in these scenes with Boutella as moral justification for homosexual acts.
On top of this, the movie features generally despicable people doing despicable things to each other, wholly unnecessary nude shots of Charlize Theron sprinkled throughout, and gratuitous violence (although much of Theron's violent acts are in self-defense, so I guess you could argue in most cases she's morally justified to do what she's doing, but that may be a bit of a stretch). This movie certainly earns its R-rating and is not for young children or teenagers.
Should You See It?
Atomic Blonde is an entertaining piece of spy action cinema that, unfortunately, is held back by odd story and narrative choices and is too convoluted for its own good. Featuring stand out performances by Charlize Theron and James McAvoy, the film has one of the most thrilling fight scenes in a movie I've seen all year and contains a nostalgia-driven '80s rock soundtrack that gives the movie a unique stylistic flair, even though it may feel a bit forced at times. For my fellow Catholics, I'd recommend waiting until this movie comes out on Netflix or some other streaming service, fast-forward through the lesbian and nude scenes, and enjoy the fight scenes for what they are. Or just don't see it altogether.
My judgment: 4.9/10
What do you think, fellow laymen and laywomen? Did I judge Atomic Blonde too harshly? Are you still planning on seeing the movie? If you've seen it already, is there an aspect of the film that I missed in my review? Please leave a like, a comment, and a prayer!