Blu-ray Review: Atomic Blonde

By , Contributor
Over the summer, just before its late-July theatrical release, Charlize Theron appeared on The Howard Stern Show to promote Atomic Blonde. Stern praised the movie as a "comic book" movie (it is, in fact, based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Sam Hart), going so far as labeling it a "superhero" movie. Theron firmly objected—not only on the basis that her character, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, doesn't possess any "super" skills but also because Atomic is so tonally different from the Marvel- and DC-style "comic book" films.

Now available on Blu-ray, Atomic Blonde is graced by a decidedly adult tone. Directed by David Leitch (of the upcoming Deadpool 2), there's violence and sex to spare. And although it's by no means a realistic depiction of Cold War era British and German spies, Theron's concerns that Stern was mischaracterizing her film (she also served as a producer) are understandable. Atomic is a hard-boiled, visually exciting action thriller that somehow didn't click with summer cineplex audiences but will hopefully be more widely discovered at home. 
 
rsz_atomic_blonde_james_mcavoy_1.jpg The year is 1989 (a specific period in time evoked by a combination of well-chosen vintage soundtrack tunes and newly recorded covers). The location: Berlin. With the impending fall of the Wall so near, yet so far, spy games remain in full effect between the Soviet Union, East Germany, and the UK. Let it be said here and now: if you're looking for the complexity and nuance of a John le Carré tale, you're in the wrong place. Atomic streamlines story in favor of lightspeed action. Agent Broughton is tasked with tracking down the so-called "List," a quite literal on-paper list (this is 1989, after all) of every Soviet field agent in current operation. Framed by the slyly humorous interrogation of Broughton by her MI6 boss Gray (Toby Jones) and his CIA partner Kurzfeld (John Goodman), Leitch keeps the action taut.

Theron makes Lorraine Broughton a tougher, leaner, meaner heroine than anything we've seen in an action flick this year (no disrespect to Gal Godot's Diana Prince, but Broughton can kick ass without the genetic advantage of having Zeuss for a dad). We first see the lithe, ageless (for the record, Theron's 42 but you'd never know it) Theron soaking Lorraine's wounds in bruises in an ice bath. It's a tone-setting moment for the rest of the film. Every move Theron makes is laced with an icy coolness, be it romping in and out of bed with mysterious Delphine (Sofia Boutella, Jayleh in Star Trek Beyond), bonding with wily fellow spy Percival (James McAvoy), or fending off scores of enemies who want to see her dead. 
 
rsz_atomic_blonde_john_goodman.jpg Towards the end, the plotting gets a bit too ambitious for its own good. Kurt Johnstad's screenplay is pretty straightforward, but there's arguably a twist or two too many. Still, as a wild "who's zoomin' who?" mousetrap, Atomic Blonde successfully keeps its balls in the air all the way through its relatively economical (115 minute) running time.

Universal Studios' Blu-ray offers a smattering of extras, led by a David Leitch audio commentary (he's joined by editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir). Also including Leitch commentary are two animated storyboard sequences that shed light on the careful planning invested in these spectacular action scenes. Further behind-the-scenes info can be gleaned from four featurettes. Six brief deleted scenes are also included.

You probably missed Atomic Blonde in theaters (based on the generally strong reviews but middling $50 million box office, summer maybe wasn't the right time to unleash this one). Make up for that oversight posthaste.
 
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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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