Darke Reviews | Atomic Blonde (2017)

I have been eager for this movie since the trailer first premiered a few months back. It looked like it had energy, charm, and was a riff on a female John Wick. How could it go wrong? The music was amazing and the plot was veiled in the trailer; which told us only as much as we needed to know. Then the video came out showing Ms Theron doing her combat training and so much of her own stunts (well as much as the insurance company allows); and sure it’s a promo video designed to spark interest but there is a lot in camera showing the work. Imperator Furiosa is no stranger to action, with one of her earliest roles being in the often forgotten Aeon Flux. She’s played hero, she’s played the lover, she’s played the monster, she’s played the beauty to the beast but –

Can she also play the Spy?

Based on the Oni Press graphic Novel series “The Coldest City” (writers Antony Johnston, Sam Hart), it was adapted for the screen by Kurt Johnstad. It seems Johnstad has a knack for adaptation as he had previously worked on 300 and 300: Rise of An Empire; as well as 2012’s Act of Valor. I am not familiar with the original property yet, but the movie intrigues me enough to pick it up. It’s a beautiful end of the cold war spy thriller with all the twists and turns you want. I said when I did my review for The Man from U.N.C.L.E that perhaps it is time to lay the spy thriller to rest, that it is dead in film.

I’m with Spock on this one

I do like spy movies, always have and always will. We have been Bourned to death and I stand by Bond and Mission Impossible working because they are larger than life. What I didn’t know at the time is you can go small with someone who is just a bit larger than life and it can work. If you let them be human, but still something to aspire to (or desire) beyond the norm it can work and the movie does that. I know! I was as surprised as anyone how quickly I found myself getting wrapped into the story.

Part of that has to go to director David Leitch. Not familiar with his work? I referenced John Wick earlier. Turns out there is good reason as he was an uncredited director on it, that I called out in the review. He has 82 stunt, stunt coordinator, or action coordinator credits to his name. I said it with John Wick and I will say it again – these guys make *good* directors. Give them a solid script to work from, good talent who isn’t afraid of action or getting themselves dirty in the process and you have a film. In this case a good one. Between the director and camera work by Jonathan Cela (John Wick) they framed almost every shot perfectly. There’s some really great camera movement I haven’t seen outside of Asian films such as The Raid, The Raid 2, or the Protector which really added to the visceral nature of the action sequences and kept so much in camera that you feel a lot of the hits. Quick cuts are eschewed for a steady rolling camera motion that follows the action and actors as it needs with great sweeps and pans as it moves.

I would be remiss to not speak the praises of Charlize Theron as our lead Lorraine Broughton. She nails the spy, the action heroine, the intelligent heroine, the femme-fatale, and vulnerable all at once and sometimes within the same scene. The camera treats her well and as a protagonist not a piece of meat to be ogled. While the scene with Sofia Boutella hinted at in the trailers does obviously get a longer cut; it is not gratuitous and not shot entirely for the pleasure of the male gaze. Not entirely – I will give credit there is a lot of framing on their faces during it which many other sequences of its ilk fail to do. In short though Theron nails it. Sofia Boutella, who sadly was in The Mummy, and not so sadly was in The Kingsman really does well and I want to see more of her acting as this film should do well and land her more roles. Kingsman showed she had physicality, Mummy tried to show menace, and this showed more acting than we got in either. James McAvoy (X-Men Days of Future Past, Victor Frankenstein) gives us his usual manic but not performance teetering on the edge of some kind of psychosis; and I love him for it since it flips on and off like a lightswitch. There are other solid performances from known actors, but what is beautifully pleasing is how much of the cast is made up of stuntmen – which allows the action to be seamless as you move from a full face shot to action to drama back to action without having to hide the person playing the part. This is yet another benefit of the movie and the director.

I talked technicality a bit with the camera work and it is solid. There’s a fight sequence I would put on the same list as Daredevil (Hallway fight) and They Live. Yeah it’s that kind of fight. Is it up there with those? Maybe maybe not, but it is in good company at least. The most striking thing, beyond the punches, in the movie is the music. Tyler Bates score is vaguely reminiscent of Marilyn Manson’s work on the first Resident Evil movie without the eerie tones. Which upon further research after writing that sentence makes sense since there is a song on the soundtrack by them both. Heavy doses of old school synthwave and pop absolutely riddled his score and work entirely within the framing and context of the narrative; which then leads us to the soundtrack. Bowie’s Cat People, Nena’s 99 Luft Balooons (in german), Siousixe and the Banshees, The Clash , Blue Monday. It’s perfect and floats in and out of both being diagetic and non diagetic sound. Part of the movie and part of the storytelling component.┬áIf this had come out much later after Baby Driver, I would say someone was being influenced by Edgar Wright’s styles and this is a good thing. The music simply adds to the energy with one odd musical queue at around the half way mark that had me smiling as the German discotheque pop faded into some familiar piano keys.

TL;DR?

I am still on an adrenaline high from how happy this movie made me. The movie itself has beautiful pumps and doses of adrenaline, but the overall effect of story, camera, 80’s nostalgic music appropriate for the story, acting, and action just combined into an exceedingly good film. If it has any real failings there are some scene cuts and edits that cause some pacing issues here and there but otherwise the camera work is stellar with a Director and DP who know what they are doing.

Theron is perfect and honestly I can best compare her to the original John McClane in how she progresses physically through the movie. It lands equally in the territory with treatment Die Hard gave it’s protagonist and it serves to benefit the movie. Granted she is still the highly trained spy vs the beat cop, but the physicality of it all sells.

Should you see it?

Yes. We’ve had few months since John Wick 2. Now it’s time for the ladies to take a turn and with Proud Mary on the way (I am excited for that too) it’s good to see us women get our shot at high octane, well shot, well done action.

Ok you like it, but will you watch it again?

Full price. No question.

Are you going to bu..?

Yes. I am going to buy it. Probably the soundtrack too.

Wow, you haven’t been this hyped in awhile.

I know right? I just really do love this movie. It gave me a lot I didn’t know I wanted or needed and handed it to me with a bow.

So do you think next week’s movie will be the same?

I am not as attached to the Dark Tower as some, but it looks solid. I am hoping for the best. Meanwhile this lived up to and exceeded my expectations.

Warning: After the Dark Tower, I may be on Hiatus. There is absolutely nothing else coming out for the month of August I have any desire to see.

Darke Reviews – The November Man

What? Didn’t hear about this one? Not many did. This is the result of studios dumping films they don’t anticipate will be successful at the end of August. It’s why Guardians of the Galaxy continues to do so well, it has no competition. It also helps that it is good. Schools are coming back into session (or already are…Arizona is weird), final family vacations, etc all contribute to lower box office in this time. The weekend before labor day is particularly notorious for well – studio garbage.

Let’s look at last year this time: One Direction: This is Us, Instructions Not Include, and Getaway. The prior week had The Worlds End and You’re Next, both of which barely eeked into the top 10 on labor day weekend. The total for the top 10 last year was only ~$26 million. That – to Hollywood – isn’t good and not worth investing in. This year doesn’t look to be shaping up much better with The November Man, As Above So Below being the only two new openings in wide release with Ghostbusters (30th anniversary) coming back to theatres. I love my Ghostbusters, you should too. It will be sad, however, if it dominates the weekend – which it might!

So that bit of info understood – should you spend money on November Man this weekend?

I have to admit, the trailers failed this one. I thought I was getting a poor version of the Mechanic (either version, but Bronson/Jan Michael Vincent’s is better). At best it seemed to be a watered down version of Bourne or Spy Game. I’d like to say I was pleasantly disappointed.

The movie is based on the November Man book series by Bill Granger, specifically book 7 “There Are No Spies”. Based on a quick read of the synopsis the words based on are used liberally here. Adapting the novel was Michael Finch (Predators, Agent 47) and Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion and the quickly cancelled Last Resort series). They don’t have a lot of work under their belt and quite honestly it shows. The plot is kind of a muddy mess. It feels like they didn’t know which story elements they wanted to use and took it to a 5 year old to cut and paste as a kindergarten project. This isn’t to say what they wrote was bad, but that when watching it as a whole it is a bit of a sloppy mess.

The movie gives us a familiar story of an over the hill spy (Pierce Brosnan) retired from the game, but pulled back in for one final mission by his old boss. In a world of Spy vs Spy he must outwit his own protege (Luke Bracey) and save a high value target (Olga Kurylenko) who is the key to information that is useful to all sides in this.

Not original I know. It actually feels very cold war, for those that remember it, even if it is referencing more modern conflicts such as the Chechen-Russian war. They don’t ever quite bring me to care if anyone lives or dies. Succeeds or fails. So for a spy thriller they failed in the tension department.

That might fall on director Roger Donaldson, who had previously tried his hand at spies in 2003’s The Recruit (which bombed). He is also familiar with Brosnan from their work on Dante’s Peak in 97 – which also failed. He does have an appropriate bit of flair so while the story falls flat and fails to bring me to care; I find myself enjoying it and the shots he picked. Even the performances he got from his actors, well most of them.

Brosnan does well as Devereaux, our retired spy. He has the certain ennui required for it. He also has the damage and baggage. A few actors could have done it, but I think perhaps a Bond actor does it better than most. Even his action beats are good and the fatigue coming out of them. Relative new comer Luke Bracey (GI Joe: Retaliation, The Best of Me) plays the protege. He’s just ok. I think the role doesn’t give him a lot to work with and he mostly stares his way through the film. There might be something there, but it did not show up here. It’s worth noting he is currently slated to be the new Keanu in the Point Break remake.

The female leads in the film are actually noteworthy. Olga Kurlyenko, whom I adore, from Oblivion and Centurion plays the prize. She isn’t completely helpless though! She has fire in her. She’s a survivor and they let it show. There is also a female assassin in the film Amila Terzimehic who has both good and bad going for her. The good is she is an intelligent, kick butt assassin who uses her brain as things play out. The bad is they don’t use her nearly enough in the film, though based on her IMDB page material was cut that had her in it.

From a technical standpoint, the movie doesn’t do much particularly new but also doesn’t fall to the Greengrass sins of shaky cam. I found myself enjoying the action beats when they occured and the overall pacing was pretty good. The movie doesn’t feel like it’s two hour running time.

TL;DR?

So at the end of the night, I enjoyed this movie. It isn’t great. It isn’t new or original. It exists quietly in the spy thriller genre and won’t make any waves and has no real weight to it. It just is.

Yet, I still enjoyed it. I still smiled a few times and looked over to the friend I was watching it with who was enjoying it as well.

So if you have nothing better to do this weekend and want a bit of Spy vs Spy action – give this a shot. Otherwise, go see Ghostbusters (which I am going to do a review of as well)!

This is a three review weekend folks….so one down, two to come.