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‘Atomic Blonde’ Review: A Pleasant Surprise

I went to watch Atomic Blonde with trepidation. After her spectacularly bad-ass performance as Furiosa in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, I so desperately wanted to see Charlize Theron head her own action movie. So when the trailer for Atomic Blonde was released, it felt too good to be true. Was she going to be overly-sexualised? Was there going to be a cringe-y, forced romance with James Mcavoy’s character? Was her overt femininity going to get in the way? The answer to all these questions is, amazingly, no.

Instead, Atomic Blonde is almost two hours of Theron beating people up, and getting beaten up, and it is awesome. What pleased me most, of course, was to watch an action film with a bisexual female lead. Not once is her sexuality questioned or undermined, with the moments between the couple intimate and genuine as there is something so precious and lovely about Sofia Boutella’s performance. It felt like a Bond girl-esque scenario, a dynamic so rarely shown between two women.

The movie is not without flaws, of course. Right from the start exposition is delivered sloppily in a tiring back and forth that barely moves the plot forward. The interrogation room scenes really only serve to reiterate what we have just seen or set up what is to come, and are often unnecessary. However, the movie does give the audience a false sense of security, letting you think that you’ve figured everything out. But with every character a suspect, the plot moves quickly to prove you wrong.

After flexing his acting ability in ‘Split’, Mcavoy returns to provide a character reminiscent of that in ‘Filth’, but with an English accent. His performance is entertaining, and he does the best he can with some occasionally awkward dialogue, though with Theron delivering so much physically, I was left wanting a bit more from his fight scenes.

Tracking shots are well utilised in a few sequences, one being one of the best fight scenes I’ve ever witnessed as the camera never cuts to close ups, never shakes, just pans as Theron’s character tackles many henchmen at once. The lead is not displayed as infallible, or indestructible, as is the case with man action leads. Instead, She is almost beaten to death of several occasions, and Theron’s gravitas delivers the convincing and thrilling performance I was hoping for.

As I said, the film does have a Bond-like feel to it; A suave, well dressed, government agent travels internationally to fight, kill, and make love to beautiful women. While the soundtrack and cinematography does make Atomic Blonde stick to the atmosphere of the graphic novel from which it originated, it does have the potential to become a franchise of it’s own, as the ‘agent’ archetype allows for endless story opportunities. And while it is debated as to whether the next James Bond should be a woman, or black, Atomic Blonde serves as a prime example of why simply making a new spy franchise with a black or female lead would be more rewarding.

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London based freelance writer with focus on politics and film

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