Movie Review: Atomic Blonde
By Felix Quinonez
August 8, 2017
Director David Leitch, who co-directed John Wick with Chad Stahelski, is an ex stuntman and has an amazing eye for action. The scenes themselves are perfectly shot and the action is the kind that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s hard to look away even when the bone crunching violence makes you want to close your eyes. The use of shaky cameras, very reminiscent of Paul Greengrass’s work on the Bourne films, is very effective.
Even the sound is precisely employed for maximum impact. During the fight scenes, the background sound is almost entirely cut out so only the fight itself is audible. The loud cacophony of punches and kicks pummeling human flesh, the grunts, gasps and painful screams come together to form an ear splitting violent orchestra. And it’s as perfectly composed as the fights themselves.
But the problem is that it is too often reminiscent of other movies. The movie recalls everything from John Wick to La Femme Nikita. And in one of the many fight scenes; the action takes place in front of a white movie screen so the characters are seen mostly in silhouettes. It’s very striking but an almost identical technique was already employed in Kill Bill to better effect.
And it also overuses one of the cheapest movie clichés of employing pop songs to fabricate excitement the movie can’t generate on its own. And although the songs are actually great, they are also very obvious choices. It feels like the movie is trying really hard to make itself seem hip by association.
Its attempts to be cool come off as transparent posturing that calls attention to itself. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re watching a movie or a photo shoot for a magazine cover. The characters don’t stand; they pose, holding their cigarettes like props as the smoke hangs in the air just right. And neon lights are the only things the movie seems to fetishize more than violence. The scenes are framed in a way that the overused neon lights shine hues of pinks and blues on all the characters in an over stylized way.
But there is something almost oddly entertaining about a movie that seems so confident about its own coolness when it really doesn’t have the right to be. And it’s about as subtle as one of Lorraine’s vicious punches to the face. Characters flat out explain things when subtext would have been more effective. Other times, the movie uses visual cues that spell things out for the viewer.
Charlize Theron is magnificent and badass, but the same can’t be said about the movie. Perhaps if it was as confident as it tries really hard to appear, it wouldn’t have felt the need to fill up every second with hollow signifiers of coolness or playing 1,000 overused pop songs. But the thing is that all the style in the world can’t save a movie that doesn’t have anything interesting beneath its shiny surface or hide the fact that it doesn’t have anything cool to say.
-- Felix Quinonez Jr. is an independent comic book creator living in Brooklyn, NY.
His self-published comic books and graphic novel have been sold in stores in NYC and online. He is the co-editor and contributor of a comic book Anthology called Emanata. That book features the work of many other talented creators from all around the country. You can check out his comic books and read more of his writing at The Neon Bulletin.