Atomic Blonde is no doubt a confusing film, meaning paying attention to every detail is vital. This is hardly a negative, as would it even be a spy film if this wasn’t the case. Atomic Blonde kept me on my toes and had me doubting myself on my deductions constantly. The signs of a good spy movie!
The film’s soundtrack is phenomenal. And really sets the scene for the time period of the movie (1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall). Classics such as New Order’s Blue Monday and the German version of Nena’s 99 Red Balloons, were perfect in adding a conflicting sense of lightheartedness to even the most gruesome or darkest of scenes too. For example, 99 Red Balloons plays in a scene where a rebellious East Berlin youth is beaten to death with his own skateboard. Whilst the choice to end on Bowie and Queen classic, Under Pressure, was a personal favorite moment of mine. For such a heavy plot, the soundtrack really did bring a sense of light needed to counteract it.
On a quick side note, what really helped set the scene and serve as reminded that the Wall was on the brink of demolition, were the little side notes of context throughout. My favorite was the line of ‘David Hasselhoff is in town’. Clearly this is a reference to the star’s fame being inextricably intertwined with the fall of the wall –despite actually not singing there until weeks after it fell.
Despite the script not being the best, I did enjoy the call backs to earlier lines of the script such as: (something along the lines of) ‘deceive the deceiver’ and the ‘c**k sucker’ remark made to Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) right at the beginning of the film appearing again in the closing scene. But I do wish there were some funnier lines to lighten the mood. Undoubtedly there were a few sarcastic jokes that got a chuckle, but not enough given it is easy to lose focus in some scenes with the subject matter being so heavy.
Atomic Blonde as whole takes a while to get into as in many places it can be extremely slow. It isn’t until about the last third of the film when the ball gets rolling. That being said the action scenes are more than enough to keep you entertained. Watching Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) in action is truly a sight to see. It is honestly amazing how long these adversaries last when literally beaten to within an inch of their lives.
Despite being slow, Atomic Blonde had me guessing the entire way through as to who the identity of Satchel is. It really played a mind game with me. Initially I thought it would be too easy and obvious to be Percival (James McAvoy) as he very clearly was shown to be a double agent working with both MI6 and the KPG. But the about half way through things became so confusing and intricate that I started to think hang on… is it him? Only to realise a little bit later the actual identity of Satchel –for spoiler reasons I will not disclose this. With a twist end -shortly followed by another twist- Atomic Blonde is perhaps one of the only films to challenge the idea of not to guess the obvious, as in this case Percival (A.K.A. the obvious) could very well have been the culprit all along.
What would I have liked to see more of?
Obviously, Atomic Blonde is a highly sexualised film. However, there was an uneven focus upon the female form compared to the male. The first time we see Lorraine she is fully naked in a bathroom. Granted James McAvoy soon has a topless scene… but only the one … and he’s surrounded by two fully naked girls. Though that being said, this choice could largely be due to the fact that like many other time periods, the 1980s were full of sexism. Institutionalised sexism is inherently shown with remarks from Percival. He basically says something along the lines of ‘Women f**k everything up’ and whereas Lorraine says she will have Tea with the Queen, Percival is expecting a –for lac of a better word- hand job instead… What can be done to improve? To accommodate the female audience I think there’s only one solution. More shirtless James McAvoy scenes!