Atomic Blonde(2017) Review
Director : David Leitch
Genre : Action, Thriller, Espionage
A Style Statement Minus The Plot!
Ever since the trailer for Atomic Blonde released five months ago, viewers were promised an ultra stylish espionage thriller focusing on an intriguing female spy, something like a female version of John Wick(2014), with a super cool soundtrack to complement the visceral action sequences showcased in the trailer, the kind of soundtrack you're likely to find in a Quentin Tarantino film. Add to that, a star cast comprising of Mad Max: Fury Road(2015) star Charlize Theron(who is well on her way to become Hollywood's number 1 action heroine) and James McAvoy(brilliant in last year's Split), and you cannot possibly go wrong, right?
I've said this before, and I'll say it again. There's no harm in trying to ape the work of a legendary director like Quentin Tarantino. The first time people see his movies, they're more likely to notice the style with which he makes his movies. There's a certain flourish that he brings to his movies, it's almost like the masterful stroke of an accomplished painter on a canvas. However, it is only upon repeat viewings that people realize that more than the style, more than the Ennio Morricone background music, more than the countless pop-culture references, it is the writing and characterizations that make his films an absolute treat to watch.
Sadly, this is where most directors go wrong, and this is exactly where John Wick director David Leitch goes not just wrong, but even worse. While many directors in their own way pay homages to the works of other directors, most of them choose not to be too obvious about it. Not David. Right from the start of the film, it's as if the director is playing a game with us, where we as the audience have to identify the original film from where a set-piece/background music/character has been lifted from. So the film begins with David Bowie's gothic rock classic Cat People (Putting Out Fire), a piece that was used in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds(2009). Then there's an action scene that seems to be inspired from Kill Bill, where Uma Thurman's character fights off a group of Samurai warriors against a blue screen. Here, Charlize Theron's character goes to blows against some tough looking Russians behind a movie screen in a theatre, illuminated with blue light. Originality be damned!
Salt(2010), Oldboy(2003), The Usual Suspects(1995), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy(2011), the list of films that this celluloid version of Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's graphic novel The Coldest City, chooses to borrow elements from goes on!
Still, like the director's previous work John Wick, the film could have been content with just being a no-brainer entertainer. Like John Wick, this film too features a cold, emotionless protagonist we don't really care for, out on a murderous spree. Now while John Wick was astoundingly self aware that it was no classic, it still emerged as a surprising sleeper hit, mainly because it was a film that never took itself too seriously. With Atomic Blonde, the makers try to inject it with a semblance of a plot, involving multiple deceptions, agents turning double agents, who in due course of time, turn triple agents. Sounds like the classier, international version of an Abbas-Mustan flick.
And then, somewhere in the confusing web of deceptions, out of nowhere, amidst the already jumbled up narrative, the makers decide to fit this...
At a certain point while making the film, the makers may have deduced that the plot is going absolutely nowhere, so why not get in an entirely unnecessary romantic lesbian angle, that was not even there in the book! After all, what better way to increase the USP of a film than to have some sleazy scenes to make up for the lack of a coherent plot.
The action scenes could have been the only saving grace of the film. A couple of them are some of the best action sequences I've seen in recent movies. And there's that so-freaking-good, Oldboy-inspired, hypnotic 10 minute long, one-shot action scene, that is alone worth the price of the ticket. Sadly, a large part of this scene was already shown in the trailers, and the audience already knows what to expect.
With a filmography consisting of some blockbuster action flicks such as The Italian Job(2003), Aeon Flux(2005), Hancock(2008) & Mad Max: Fury Road(2015), I was pretty excited to watch Chalize Theron in her solo action piece. Unfortunately, her role is so underdeveloped that she merely appears to sleepwalk in this one. Most of the other actors, including The Mummy(2017) actress Sofia Boutella, are inconsequential. Only, James McAvoy seems to be enjoying his role as a field agent, having questionable intentions.
At best, Atomic Blonde is a very good-looking film that screams 'style' in your face, and a large part of the credit goes to cinematographer Jonathan Sela's use of red and blue neon color templates. Sadly, the direction by David Leitch is a big miss, as he fails to etch what could have been a truly iconic character, that had the potential to be on par with 'The Bride' from Kill Bill. If this is the best he can do, then I shudder to think of how he might ruin Deadpool 2.
A big thumbs down from me.
I'm going with 1/5.