A Review of “Atomic Blonde”

An unfulfilling plot containing undeveloped relationships, superfluous twists, and general confusion poorly covered up by action scenes, cool aesthetics, and loud music.

I watched Atomic Blonde a few weeks ago, and… it was a bit of a letdown. [Warning: spoilers ahead!] I saw the trailer for the film a few months before it came out and became extremely excited at the sight of its star-studded cast (featuring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, and John Goodman, among others), intense action scenes, catchy soundtrack, unique neon aesthetic, and its tough, dauntless female protagonist (a rarity for action films). It looked like it could be a really good movie. I couldn’t really make out the plot just based on the trailer, but at the time I saw this as an chance to be really surprised by a movie instead of having the best scenes spoiled in an effort to attract potential viewers.

It turns out I was wrong – despite the trailer’s ambiguity it actually did depict most of the movie’s best scenes, and whatever plot it focused on proved both confusing and boring. In brief, this plot centers around a spy from MI6 named Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), who is called in by “superiors” (Toby Jones, John Goodman, and James Faulkner) from MI6 and the CIA and asked to tell her story of a mission gone wrong in Berlin. The movie consists mainly of the events of this mission, basically, a wild goose chase for a list that contains the names of agents and other secret intelligence workers that was stolen from MI6 by a rogue KGB agent. Lorraine is assisted in this search by another MI6 agent, Percival (James McAvoy), and becomes romantically involved with a French spy named Delphine (Sofia Boutella). Amidst all this, meanwhile, everyone is trying to find out the true identity of a mole in MI6 code-named “Satchel” who has been conveying secrets to the KGB. This search for the stolen list and the identity of the double agent is drawn out and muddled up so that the final product of Atomic Blonde comprises two hours of Charlize Theron glaring, forced jokes that fall flat, booming music, action scenes with bad guys that don’t seem to die, Charlize Theron glaring more, and James McAvoy popping up and doing ambiguous things with little purpose. Half of the movie is lifeless to the point of incredulity, whereas the other half attempts to revive Lorraine’s story with numerous action scenes and random plot turns.

It is strange to say that there’s “not a lot happening” in an action movie. Yes, the fight scenes are very intense and, although at times a bit long, pretty fun to watch. But otherwise, there’s really not a lot of substance to Atomic Blonde. The question I found myself asking throughout the movie, aside from “What is going on?” was “Why am I still watching this?”. Essentially, the film fails to give audiences a reason to care about its protagonist, Lorraine. In the case of most movies, the audience feels a desire for main characters to succeed; Atomic Blonde relies solely on this basic instinct, not providing the audience with anything else to keep them hoping for Lorraine’s success. While it is understandable that Lorraine – a spy who has killed countless people, has seen her closest loved ones killed, and who essentially trusts no one – is not the easiest character to sympathize with, there are still different methods that could have been employed to make an audience at least feel caring towards her.

The movie tries to evoke compassion, sure, but whatever attempts are made seem half-hearted. For instance, in the beginning of the movie, an MI6 spy is reported to have been killed by a KGB agent. At this point, Lorraine is shown distressed while holding a picture of the M16 agent and herself together, a clear indication of their past romantic relationship. Instead of capitalizing on (or at least emphasizing) this loss, the movie moves on completely and lets the audience forget about this connection until it, for seemingly no reason, brings up a flashback of this relationship midway through the movie. But, really, due to the lack of development of this piece of Lorraine’s history, the audience isn’t given any motivation to feel sympathy for her – at most, maybe surprise that they remembered her dead ex’s name. This is seen again when Lorraine becomes involved with Delphine while in Berlin. At the end of their few days together, Delphine is murdered by Percival. Lorraine’s reaction – a teary, seconds-long shot of her staring into the distance – manages to draw no emotion out of the audience. If anything, Delphine’s death is expected. Yet again, the relationship between the two simply is not developed enough on screen to make the audience feel as if this is a true tragedy.

While there are certainly worse movies than this one, I just feel like Atomic Blonde, with all its action scenes and aggressive music, amounted to a waste of time. There seems to be a trend of relying on somewhat superficial tools like soundtracks and visuals aesthetics to draw in audiences, allowing the film to contain just enough significant content to make a decent trailer. I think Atomic Blonde is, sadly, yet another example of a movie that followed this pattern (although it is important to note that this strategy seems to be successful for the box office; Atomic Blonde currently has grossed $94,071,790 worldwide, roughly $60 million over their production budget). So, while the aesthetics, fight sequences, and music are mildly enjoyable, the entertainment value is insufficient for two hours, and certainly not as a replacement for an interesting plot.