Saturday, July 29, 2017

Atomic Blonde Review

Summer 2017 is coming to a close and here in the final weekend of July we have my final highly anticipated movie of the summer. It's not been a perfect summer, but overall I can't complain as we have had movies such as "Wonder Woman," "Baby Driver," "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "War for the Planet of the Apes" that all really pleased me. I was hoping to finish off strong with "Atomic Blonde" before we head into the wildcard month of August, which could have some good movies, but we won't know until they come. The reason why I had every reason to be excited for this movie was that it was a female-led action flick starring the great Charlize Theron and directed by David Leitch, one half of the directing duo of "John Wick," which was a huge surprise back in 2014 that also spawned an equally as great sequel earlier this year. Quite frankly, "Atomic Blonde" looked like a female version of "John Wick" based on the trailers and, given the director and strong cast, that had me excited. Unfortunately reviews came in as mixed, which caused me to temper my expectations going in. That was probably a good decision on my part because, while "Atomic Blonde" is a decently entertaining film, it's nowhere near as awesome and slick and "John Wick."

The biggest problem this movie had was the plot of the film. While "John Wick" was full of amazing action sequences, a big reason that made it work was that the premise was simple and easy to follow, yet setup this awesome underground world of hitmen that made you want more, which it successfully delivered in "John Wick: Chapter 2" as it successfully expanded this universe. "Atomic Blonde" on the other hand is anything but simple and it uses a storytelling technique that really bothers me. After an intriguing opening, Charlize Theron's story arc in the movie begins at the end with her beaten up and bruised. Shortly thereafter she is taken into an interrogation room with John Goodman and Toby Jones to tell the what happened. Then the bulk of the movie is essentially told in flashbacks while cutting back to the interrogation room whenever the movie felt like it needed to add more exposition to its rather confusing and cliche plot which consists of a whole ton of characters all wanting to track down a list of names. I had a hard time keeping track of every character and what their specific motivations were, which wasn't helped by the fact that the movie was purposely super mysterious as to who was trustworthy and who wasn't, which didn't work for me this time.

Charlize Theron's role in all of this is as a MI6 undercover agent sent over to Berlin in 1989 with the backdrop of the whole "Tear down that wall!" stuff to figure out who killed one of their other agents and track down this list of double agents. Thus in an interesting turn of events, I quickly learned that this was absolutely not a female version of "John Wick," but rather a female version of "James Bond." We have a movie that's mainly a spy thriller with action sequences thrown in on occasion. Now I'm not necessarily an expert on Bond, but I enjoy myself a good Bond film, although they do have a history of being more hit and miss, which is expected when you have a franchise of 25 films over the course of 50 some odd years. With "Atomic Blonde" being this female version of Bond, I have to point out that instead of giving the world a literal female James Bond (or Jane Bond as it would be), like many people are demanding, I say we keep James Bond's gender in tact and just make more movies like "Atomic Blonde." That should work, right? And in theory you would think that it would please everyone. We would be avoiding turning Bond into a politically correct franchise while having more female-led action/spy movies.

Back to the movie, though, if we continue this comparison to Bond, I think "Atomic Blonde" ends up feeling a lot more like "Spectre" than "Skyfall," if we're using recent examples that are fresh on people's memories. Throwing specific plots aside, I say this because "Skyfall" had me fully invested and entertained throughout the whole movie while "Spectre" had me bored for most of the movie while occasionally throwing me an action sequence that caught my attention and gave me hope before again throwing that hope out the window by becoming boring again. Thus was the case with "Atomic Blonde." I really didn't give a crap about this whole list thing and when that is what the whole plot is centered around, it's hard to be invested in a movie when you don't care about this plot. I was just begging the movie to give me more action sequences because Charlize Theron is a boss and I wanted nothing more than to see her in full-out John Wick mode by tearing through a ton of people in a bunch of action sequences instead of wandering around in this confusing web of a plot while making out with Sofia Boutella on occasion, which was a romance that I didn't really buy given how cold-hearted and broken Charlize Theron was for the rest of the movie.

Yeah, the best way to describe Sofia Boutella in this movie was that she was a Bond girl. Her character was an undercover French agent, which made me want to see her and Charlize Theron out in the field together. I mean, Sofia Boutella has played some super awesome characters in the last few years where she has proven that she is a fantastic action actress who brings her A-game to every role. I absolutely loved her in "Kingsman: The Secret Service" and even though I wasn't a huge fan of "Star Trek Beyond" or "The Mummy," I loved her character in both movies as well. Having her team up with Charlize for some high-energy action sequences would've been great. Instead Sofia is relegated to the bar or the bedroom where she is objectified as a Bond girl instead of her skill sets as an action star being taken advantage of. It felt like a huge waste. It was as if this filmmaking team was unsure of their ability to attract people just with the female action hero premise, so they thought that throwing in a female romance with two beautiful and popular actresses would be the real way to get males to see their action movie. I can't speak for the male population as a whole, but for me I was sold on the action and was disappointed when the movie didn't deliver on that.

Yes, I do have to give credit where credit is due. Despite me being frustrated at the boring, cliche, convoluted story and upset that we didn't have more action sequences, when they did happen, they were pretty darn awesome. The one staircase sequence that everyone is talking about is just as good as advertised. It was just as good as the best sequences in "John Wick" and the fight choreography was on par as well. Given that Leitch's background is heavy on his stunt coordinator work, he definitely knows how a true action sequences should be directed. Thus we have real, genuine action sequences that aren't plagued by your typical camera and editing tricks that make a lot of action movies feel super lazy. Just by watching the movie, I believed that Charlize Theron trained hard to be able to pull these stunts off. I concluded this by carefully watching the camera and where the cuts were, thus I was super impressed and entertained by how genuine and real it all felt by not cutting away. Thus I give a lot of credit to Leitch and Charlize for pulling this off yet again. And there were more fun action sequences than just the staircase sequence like some are claiming, but yet I was hoping for a bit more action and less confusing story.

Overall I do think there was a good movie hiding in here somewhere. Had we gotten rid of the flashback story technique and sharpened up the plot of the movie by cutting out several characters and giving us a slightly more interesting premise than everyone in Berlin searching for this list, this would've been a great movie. More action sequences would've been great. It would've also been nice to give Sofia Boutella something to do in the movie outside making out with Charlize. But the action sequences that we did get were awesome. I also loved James McAvoy in the movie. I thought the movie was well-shot with a slick look that was similar to "John Wick" and had a very good 80's soundtrack to go along with its 80's Cold War setting in Berlin. And compared to my last two movie adventures in "Valerian" and "The Emoji Movie," I suppose anything could feel like a masterpiece. But when all is said and done, it just makes me wonder if the bulk of the credit for making "John Wick" work should be given to Chad Stahelski instead of David Leitch. The two did great together with "John Wick." On their own, Stahelski did equally as great with "John Wick: Chapter 2" while Leitch left a lot to be desired for in "Atomic Blonde," which I'm giving a 6/10.

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