Before I get into this review, I wanted to thank my friends at Double Feature Preachers, David and Shannon, for giving me free tickets to see this movie. I really appreciated it, and my wife and I saw the film together as a bit of a date night.
David and Shannon are two fellow movie reviewers, both with their own style of reviewing and their own rating systems. I find their content to be pretty great whenever I take the time to read it. If you want to check them out, click here to go to their website.
Anyway, I am doubly thankful for receiving those tickets, because it means I didn’t have to pay to see this stupid movie.
Now when I first saw the trailers to this movie, I thought, “Oh Charlize Theron in a stylized movie where she violently disassembles people with her bare hands? I’m down!”
Then, Rotten Tomatoes gave it a Certified Fresh rating, but RT always gives high scores to any movie that portrays women as perpetually strong and independent, so I waited to see what my fellow Twitter reviewers thought… and they weren’t as complimentary.
The general consensus was, “Charlize Theron was great! But the movie itself was pretty dull…”
I have no idea what they’re talking about… Charlize Theron was just as bad as the rest of the movie.
All the style in this movie felt so out of place that it felt more like them smearing icing on a turd instead of complimenting a finely built universe.
Charlize Theron’s character is so dull and poorly written that I honestly can’t blame her for her lack of intrigue. It’s not that her acting was bad, it’s just that she was given a crap sandwich to work with.
The only thing that this movie DID do right was much of the action, which was the most well shot stuff in the film, and it was brutal and slightly fun to watch….
… but like John Wick: Chapter 2… when you don’t spend time creating a deep, interesting character, there is no emotional investment to be had during the fight scenes, so the entire product that is Atomic Blonde is a lost cause.
I’m going to articulate every problem I have with this movie as best as I can, because I understand that this isn’t a popular opinion. So if anyone who disagrees with my opinion wishes to voice it, feel free to let me know, and I’ll respect a discussion provided you aren’t an idiot about it.
So spy Lorraine Broughton (Theron) only has two actual defining personality traits:
— She’s a spy.
— She’s a very fashionable spy.
Literally every single other thing in the movie does not point to any sort of definable character trait for Broughton. All of her responses to things tell me nothing about her character aside from, “She’s doing her job.” Perhaps you could add a third trait: she’s cold and distant, but considering the “cold and distant spy” is such a treaded path that there’s barely any road left to tread, I’d say that wouldn’t help her case.
What’s worse is that the ONLY definable character trait she has is constantly compromised by the fact that she’s terrible at her job.
<I’m so terribly sorry, but I’m now forced to go into spoilers already. I’ll highlight the part where I stop spoiling>
So throughout the entire film, Broughton is constantly compromised by Percival (James McAvoy). He was working as a double agent for the Russians the whole time that Broughton is there, and the Russians know she’s there the whole time, constantly on her tail and constantly disrupting her missions.
This is coupled with the fact that the movie seems to insinuate that Broughton knew about Percival’s betrayal halfway through the movie, yet she still allowed him to call a lot of the shots that ultimately put her life and the lives of others in danger.
Now this spy incompetence wouldn’t be that big of a deal if they either
A. created her into an interesting character that was defined outside of her career and wardrobe
B. had her think of ingenious ways to improvise during these problems.
(or both. Both would have been better.)
But the only thing that Broughton does to get out of situations is to either beat her way out of the scenario and/or run away. There were multiple times during the movie where I was wondering what she would do as a spy to overcome certain situations the movie presented her. And the answer was never intuitive or interesting unless she needed to fight her way out.
Unsurprisingly, the action was the only great thing about this movie.
What’s even worse is not only is Charlize Theron given a flat character to work with; practically everyone is given a flat, poorly defined, irritating character. This is exceptionally true for James McAvoy. I get it. McAvoy was casted as a dubious, slimy character, and that’s partly why his character is so irritating, but dubious and slimy characters can still be likable, or at the very least interesting and enthralling, if they are written as such. The shoddy script and the poor direction allowed no room for such development.
One of the most enraging things about this movie is that it was trying so desperately to be this stylized movie, but there was absolutely no purpose for such stylization.
There were moments in the film where they had the movie text that told the audience where or when the scene took place, and they were all in words that were “spray painted” onto the screen in some sort of neon paint. When this first happened, I thought “Oh wow, I wonder if there’s a reasoning for why they decided to do that spray paint effect?”
The answer? Because it looked cool and punk-ish. There was no other reason for why they did this.
The soundtrack for this movie felt so out of place. Like the spray paint text, the only real reason they shoved all of this music into this movie is to force this style onto the movie that fit nowhere else into the film. Now, like Suicide Squad, the music isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, a lot of it is actually really good. But whether the music is good or not does not determine whether the soundtrack is fitting. In order for a soundtrack to be fitting, it has to serve a purpose or set a specific tone, which Atomic Blonde failed to do.
There were so many scenes that force you as an audience member to change your frame of reference because scenes would abruptly change to new ones without so much as an establishing shot or an explanation as to why Broughton was at the place she was at. And oftentimes, when the movie would change the scene to a new location without explanation, there was extremely little to no purpose for the scene to take place at all, or it was just for Broughton to inorganically stumble upon some important character in the movie.
Still even more, they would cut apart the flow of many scenes to do something artsy or to cut back to Broughton sitting in a chair saying stylistic nothings to the audience.
All of these dumb choices created a film that was wildly disjointed, confusing, and ultimately meaningless.
This entire film is an experience in asking, “What is even happening, and why should I care?” There’s no room to connect to any of these characters. The plot is so aimless and the directing style so disjointed that it’s altogether impossible to become emotionally invested in this story.
The only thing that it does do well is the choreographed fighting scenes. They usually flowed well, and yes, Charlize Theron does kick a lot of ass… but that is honestly the only good quality this movie has. And action does not carry a movie if you don’t care about the person who’s doing the action.
It’s so funny. Most of the people who praised this movie say, “The action was so great!” and “That stairs scene was amazing!”, and I find that that’s pretty much all they have to say about it… as if this was just one big stunt demo that you have to pay money to see (although I didn’t pay to see this one. Thanks again guys!).
But then again, that was enough for audiences to monkey-clap about John Wick: Chapter 2, even though that movie was also a great big exercise in style-over-substance. In that case, Atomic Blonde is style-over-substance on steroids.