Spy movies are not my thing. Between cool moments with gadgets and action, they are just boring. Most consist of the spy going undercover, maintaining their cover, and hooking up with a beautiful woman. Then comes the final confrontation with the bad guy and a happy ending. I know not all films are created equal, but that is how spy movies tend to play out. Mission Impossible 5, Man from UNCLE, and Archer are the exception. Does Atomic Blonde belong among them or in the garbage with 007?
Working for British Intelligence Lorraine, played by Charlize Theron, is dispatched to East Berlin to track down a list of agents currently working undercover. At the same time, elements from both sides of the Iron Curtain are after the same thing.
Blonde is all style. The visuals, action, and soundtrack are in service to looking cool. It is shot and edited at a fast-pace not unlike a Guy Ritchie film with neon supers and an omnipresent blue tint. Before the ending, there are three long shots disguised as one in an extended action scene. It starts from the top of a building and works its way down into a short car chase. It was the best and only worthwhile part of Blonde.
The issue of style versus substance is universal. You can strike a balance between the two or focus on either one. More often than not, taking the style approach leaves a lot to be desired. Want more character, more meat on the bones of your movie? That is substance. If you leave it out, you will have a very superficial experience.
Despite the action and soundtrack, Blonde is pretty mediocre. It takes forever to get to the good stuff with all the setup and tropes in between. There is undercover stuff, losing tails, and subterfuge that you have seen before. You can probably figure out what happens without actually seeing the film. With the lack of substance, there is nothing to hook you in and help suffer through the monotony.
The meandering from point to point would have been tolerable if we actually cared about those involved. Theron has the screen presence to sell the character, but she has no personality beyond “I like being deceptive.” Know why Punisher is never the focus of a MAX book? Because he is a void of pure rage and instinct whose sole desire is to kill criminals. A movie all about him is like if No Country for Old Men was about Anton Chigurh. Theron is so one-note, I had to look up her character’s name afterward. The surrounding cast does their best, but even James McAvoy’s charisma could not salvage the situation. Nor could John Goodman or Sofia Boutella.
And that is Atomic Blonde. It is not the worst thing ever, but there is not much to say. The cool action scenes and soundtrack were not a good motivation to stick around. You need to give audiences an incentive to care. I cannot recommend it for any reason beyond those two aspects. Check out the soundtrack online and wait two months for the action sequences to appear on YouTube.