Atomic Blonde is the best espionage 80s music video ever. This film is a fantastic display of stylized movie making and storytelling like we haven’t seen in some time. It takes place in Berlin at the turn of the century, the mission – a list of names is in danger of getting into the wrong hands. I know, not the most original plot line, but you are not in this film for the plot line. You are in it for the, cinematography, the characterization of the players involved, the visual metaphors, the politics and oh god yes, the fight choreography.
If anything like many of you, we have seen the promotions of Charlize Theron putting in work with the stunt team, and she does not disappoint. They were able to seamlessly blend the stunt double with Charlize, I believe, because she is actually doing a large part of her own stunts. The fight choreographer was truly able to show me a badass woman who took down a room of men, not ’cause it was sexy (all though it was) not because she had super powers, but because she was skilled and a trained survivor. I could clearly see how someone can easily bring down an opponent bigger than them using the weight of their body, through force and the laws of physics. I was floored, I even feel like I may have learned some moves just watching.
Fighting aside, I think everyone is wondering about how the movie portrays women. The film could go so many ways, it could have given us the same sexy agent fighting in skimpy clothing, it could have given us gratuitous girl-on-girl sex scenes, it could have given us seductive agent using her body to get what she needs. In my honest opinion – it spat on those tropes when the lights went down. It felt so good to see sexy and tough being portrayed without being some kind of service to the audience. It was a period piece that used costumes and the feeling of the times to convey a feeling of pride, strength, and intelligence.
People may disagree with me and that is fine, but when I was a child I just wanted to be a tomboy. I knew I was tough, I knew I was strong, but I knew I loved to be feminine, and for some reason growing up, those two things couldn’t mix. In this day and age we have been breaking those boundaries, speaking out against images of strength as masculine and images of posh or sexiness as weak. I honestly believe this film didn’t disappoint me as I thought it could have.
If you have seen the trailer, you see there is a romantic interaction between two women. I honestly felt in this situation Charlize was 007 and Sofia Boutella was the Bond girl. Sofia at one point interrupts a conversation Charlize’s character is having with a man at a bar in attempt to get the man leave so she may make advances on Charlize. Sofia says to her, “ You look like you needed saving.” A classic moment that one could pass off as trite oh they’re just trying to do a gender swap blah blah blah. This is not how I felt, In this scene nor the sexual encounter that followed. I didn’t feel like they were doing this scene to get a rise out of the audience, nor that they were carelessly throwing in two women kissing like so many movies have in the past. It portrayed a mutual attraction between two people the way espionage movies do, I was thankful for that.
The movie is not perfect, apart from the unoriginal storyline or plot, there are almost no people of color at all. In fact if there were, I didn’t notice them. That could be messed up on my part for not being attentive, but that also means they were not attentive. To be fair, it is East and West Berlin in 1989 – I’m not a history buff but may not have been a huge population of POC BUT… not even one? There was also a moment when a higher up described an agent who had gone off the rails as having, “gone native” with a response of “he’s gone completely feral.” I did not appreciate that one bit. Wishing someone in the writers room, on the editing team, director, anyone, had caught that.
What the film did do well was the cinematography. Each shot enhanced the action in a real way that set the mood for each scene. From a chase scene to an intense conversation, the camera angles and shot choices gave life to the movie. The use of dark and light, east and west and the metaphor of the wall coming down was done well and built upon the movie’s brand of storytelling and the politics of the piece. And the use of ice throughout the movie was an effective and clever visual for the subject matter.
The politics of espionage were the underlying foundation of the piece, it pontificated on the ideas of sides and who wins, if anyone does win in espionage. At the same time, the tying in of the age of surveillance and KBG technology enhanced the overarching messages in the film. The music played the most important role in the film, strategically placed in moments that not only set the mood but advanced each scene forward. It was all 80s hits and remixes and best believe they will be in my Spotify playlist immediately.
All in all, I’d recommend this movie to anyone who loves Jason Bourne, John Wick, James Bond – and 80s music.