REVIEW: Visually Impressive ‘Atomic Blonde’ Ruined By Convoluted Story

Beneath all of the style, colors and visual flair that “Atomic Blonde” offers to audiences, this late cold war spy thriller is unfortunately convoluted and dull.

The film follows special agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), who’s sent by the British government to Berlin at the last moments of the cold war. Her mission is to investigate the murder of another operative and recover a list of agency information that may have fallen into the wrong hands.

To do so, Broughton has to work together with a less than professional British agent named David (James McAvoy) who’s been working in Berlin for the agency for years.

An immediate issue with “Atomic Blonde” is the framing device it uses to tell its story. The film starts off with Lorraine after the events of the film have taken place and shows her giving a report of her mission to her superiors. What follows is a series of flashbacks to the mission itself. Now, I don’t always have an issue with films being told as a story by the main characters by use of flashbacks.

However, from my perspective, this only works for certain genres. For example, it makes sense for a character driven drama or a biopic, because the audience gets to watch the character evolve into the person who’s telling the story. This doesn’t work as well for an action flick, though, since the movie isn’t as character driven and because it takes away tension from the action sequences since we know the lead character will be OK.

On top of the issues with the framing device, the movie also suffers from a story that just meanders through a rather convoluted and at times confusing mystery. Instead of a well crafted unraveling puzzle, Lorraine’s mission in “Atomic Blonde” just seems to bounce around in an incoherent way.

The movie, clocking in at about two hours, ends up feeling longer because of the stumbling plot and doesn’t seem to build to anything, either. The list that Lorraine is sent to retrieve is never really shown and it’s never put to use, so the stakes don’t feel high and as a result the movie ends in somewhat weak fashion.

The characters are another area where “Atomic” has some issues. For example, a French agent named Delphine Lasalle (played by Sofia Boutella) comes into the picture and starts a relationship with Lorraine, but it felt like such a random, on and off fling that I never got emotionally invested in what was going to come of it.

The biggest detriment, though, is McAvoy’s character David. The character is portrayed as a loose cannon, which is fine, but the film takes it one step further by making McAvoy play him as a complete slime-ball and as a result it’s hard to ever place any trust in the character. This, in turn, means the audience is just waiting for the eventual betrayal.

“Atomic Blonde” is more about style than substance, though, and when it comes to style, the movie is a bit hit or miss. At times there are some great shots and the colors are used well. However, there is some over saturation here, both in terms of the color and lighting in scenes as well as by how much 80s pop culture references are stuffed in.

Despite all of those criticisms, I can still give “Atomic Blonde” credit, and quite a bit of it for that matter. There was some great camera work here and the action sequences were absolutely phenomenal. For example, there’s a wonderfully shot and choreographed fight scene in the third act that takes place in a multi-story apartment building. This moment is immediately followed by a great car chase.

Praise should also go the way of Theron, who works well as the tough as nails agent. Theron always puts up a strong front and doesn’t break under pressure, despite facing numerous hardships. Those qualities put her character up there with Bourne and Bond.

“Atomic Blonde” was a disappointment from my view since there’s good stuff here. However, the way everything was rolled out, from the plot to the story and even some of the characters, caused it to fall short. 2.8 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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