“Shall we begin…?”
When the trailer for Atomic Blonde first came out several months ago it became one of the highlights in many a cinephile’s calendar. It promised a tale of spies and subterfuge, set during the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, with another kick-ass lead role for Charlize Theron forming imagery that had all the makings to be iconic. Consider the fact it was superbly soundtracked to Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics, almost to the extent of looking like it had be choreographed and tailor-made for that particularly haunting slice of New Wave, it looked like it would be on track to be a surprise summer hit.
There are many things Atomic Blonde does well, very well indeed. First, there’s the overall look of the film – everything about it screams style. It’s hyper-stylised to perfection. From the archive footage setting the scene, the chase sequence in Berlin then the saturated London frame narrative followed by the graffiti-style titling that appears throughout, this is a film that knows its image, its brand as it were, and sells it completely. This is epitomised by the superb work by the wardrobe and costume department; frequently it’s Theron’s outfits that are the scene-stealers. Her outfits are akin to shoe & fashion porn – spiky heels of all lengths & heights, coats fitted and cut to perfection – it’ll be interesting to see if the film has any impact on next season’s clothing choices.
The killer stiletto heels and sharply dressed image epitomises Theron’s character, as cold-as-ice and far-from-nice if you get in her way – her cardio-intense stunts give both Bond and Bourne a run for their respective monies. It’s also very clear from the cinematography how much of the stuntwork she undertook herself – there’s no cutting away or close-ups on body parts that undoubtedly belong to a stunt double rather than the star ��� all of her shots show her in her bold, brazen and brutal glory. That ten minute sequence you may have already heard about, one continuous take of fight sequence is of the show-stopper status that will lead it to talked about for a long time to come – undoubtedly to be discussed in the same film studies lecture as Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) and Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria (2015) for the seamless approach of utilising the long take.
It’s stylish to the point of arrogance, primarily because it never feels choreographed even though it would have unquestionably have been done so to the nth degree to allow for the shot to be so damn effective. The fact it’s hand-held camerawork as well, forcing the viewer to be complicit in each punch/kick/throw, will have the masses masochistically grinning in the aisles. It’s the highlight of the movie, a stand-out scene in every single way and the answer to the questions that arose when we first met Theron’s character in her present day – naked and bruised all-over as she emerged from an ice-bath.
The film is then essentially one entire flashback, her recounting the events of her most recent mission to her superior officers after arriving at headquarters post-ice bath. Her retelling is frequently interrupted with returns back to the interview room with prompts for further detail. It’s a jarring feature which reinforces the film’s main flaw, that whilst it may have a great story its plot is convoluted and overcomplicated. There’s no space for subtlety here. The fact her character is given everything to do, but with little characterisation or detail, is another frustrating feature.
However, if you like blockbusters that favour style over substance, fun over functionality, archetypal over auteurial – you wouldn’t get anything else that is as stylish or fun or archetypal as this.
Atomic Blonde is in UK cinemas from August 9th.