Back Comments (2) Share:
Facebook Button

Feature


When Lorraine Broughton, MI6’s most lethal assassin (Charlize Theron), is sent on a covert mission into Cold War Berlin, she must use all of the spycraft, sensuality, and savagery she has to stay alive in the ticking time bomb of a city simmering with revolution and double-crossing hives of traitors. Broughton must navigate her way through a deadly game of spies to recover a priceless dossier while fighting ferocious killers along the way. (From Universal’s official synopsis)

 Atomic Blonde
Following the success of John Wick (2015), co-directors Chad Stahelski & David Leitch divided to conquer Hollywood’s middle-budget action industry with an injection of simple, straight-forward shoot-outs and fisticuffs. Stahelski improved upon their debut with John Wick: Volume 2 (2017), while Leitch took the reins on a Charlize Theron vehicle called Atomic Blonde. Atomic Blonde shares a lot of DNA with the John Wick movies, as seen in its heart-pumping, show-offy combat and neon palettes, as well as its use of older genre tropes. However, whereas the John Wick movies are versions of old revenge western motifs, Atomic Blonde seeks to uproot the spy genre with its raw, rock n’ roll tone and feminine skewing of standard conventions. It’s not the first movie to inject a woman into James Bond or Jason Bourne’s shoes, of course, but it offers a more unique and subversive perspective than other recent iterations of the theme, like, say, Phillip Noyce’s Salt (2010).

Kurt Johnstad’s script (based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel, The Coldest City, pub. 2012) has key shortcomings and one’s tolerance for them will probably boil down to a matter of taste. His story is a familiar one, his supporting characters are a bit tedious (despite the cast’s best efforts), and he occasionally trips over sub-Guy Ritchie ‘cool’ dialogue, but these choices tend to fit the film’s straight-faced, ‘adult comic book’ tone. It’s ‘typified’ without being entirely predictable or boring (though there are some predictable and boring stretches, too). The streamlined plot also helps to focus attention on Theron’s performance and simplify its flashback motif. Johnstad also manages to eschew a lot of the awkward exposition inherent in most modern spy movies by setting his story during the Cold War. This streamlines the narrative and gives Leitch a chance to latch onto some period nostalgia in a more organic way that the often ‘80s-esque John Wick (I personally find myself preferring Wick’s faux-period setting to the real thing). However, speaking of taste, Johnstad stumbles hard when he Spoiler  opts to kill off Lorraine’s same-sex love interest, Delphine (Sofia Boutella). The death serves no real narrative purpose (the entire plot is built around giving Lorraine a cause to kill her antagonist – it was already ‘personal’) and probably only happens because murdering queer women is an enduring Hollywood plot device.

 Atomic Blonde
As a stunt coordinator himself, Leitch recognizes the value in allowing fight choreographer Jon Valera – of Haywire (2011), Man of Tai Chi (2013), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), and, of course, John Wick fame – and his team cut loose with a wide canvas, free of excessive edits, jerky camera movements, flashy digital effects, and anything else that might tarnish their efforts. Taken as parts, the action set-pieces are suspenseful, exhilarating, and spectacularly brutal. Taken as sections in a larger movie, they sometimes feel as if they’re being cut short by obligations to the story (with exceptions, naturally). Leitch and editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir are trying so hard to make the action drive the narrative, but their momentum keeps falling just short of the expressionistic, ‘one scene rolls into the next’ thrust they’re aiming for. They certainly haven’t failed – to the contrary, most espionage movies can’t muster an ounce of Atomic Blonde’s swagger – they just can’t quite maintain the level of intensity present in their very best scenes.

Video


Atomic Blonde was shot using Arri Alexa digital cameras and is presented in 2.40:1, 1080p video on this Blu-ray disc. Leitch snagged John Wick cinematographer Jonathan Sela for this solo feature and, not surprisingly, this ensures some visual continuity between the films. Atomic Blonde embraces the vivid, almost supernaturally consistent hues, smooth gradations, and complex textures that the digital format allows. The vibrant colour quality and rich dynamic range are particularly impressive, something the filmmakers draw attention to by breaking most of the film down into cold, super-desaturated scenes and impossibly neon-baked scenes. Tight details and deep blacks help press the subtler contrasts, though the emphasis on sleek lines and delicately-pulled shallow focus does mean that some elements appear blurry. The utter cleanliness of the transfer keeps digital noise to a minimum, even throughout the glossy gradations and intense blends.

 Atomic Blonde

Audio


Atomic Blonde is presented in DTS:X, though this review will refer to the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 ‘core’ option. When rollicking in action mode, this track is top-notch and aggressive, brimming with strong and subtle directional movements. Sometimes, the centered dialogue is too soft and is lost in music and/or effects, but I’ve had this same issue with similar releases and suspect that it’s a side effect of downgrading the DTS:X to MA 7.1. Composer Tyler Bates found time to work with both John Wick directors on each of their direct follow-ups and I think I give Atomic Blonde’s score a slight edge over John Wick: Chapter 2. His driving electronica is blended with oodles of period-appropriate tunes (including David Bowie’s “Cat People,” which is vying for the title of default ‘warrior woman’ song following this and Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds). The pop music often comes from an on-screen source and offers more opportunities for clever tonal shifts and directional effects.

Extras


  • Commentary with director David Leitch and editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir – This lighthearted track is largely technical with Leitch breaking down the differences between/uses of live stunts and special effects, and Ronaldsdóttir, naturally, talking about her editing processes. The level of informative content is mediocre, since the commentators spend more time praising the cast & crew than discussing the production, but the friendly tone is pretty charming. They also pick up the pace a bit as the track progresses.
  • Six deleted/extended scenes (7:23, HD)
  • Welcome to Berlin (4:33, HD) – A quick look at the ways the production designers recreated Cold War-era Berlin in Budapest.
  • Blondes Have More Gun (7:01, HD) – An exploration of Theron’s character, her training, and action choreography.
  • Spymaster (4:18, HD) – The cast & crew praise Leitch and discuss his perspective on espionage cinema.
  • Anatomy of a Fight Scene (7:52, HD) – Leitch breaks down the long-take stairwell fight, including PiP footage from behind-the-scenes and from the stunt team’s demo videos.
  • Story in Motion: Agent Broughton and The Chase (2:16, 1:38, HD) – Motion storyboard/animatic samples with optional Leitch commentary.
  • Trailers for other Universal and Focus releases


 Atomic Blonde

Overall


Atomic Blonde is fantastic in pieces, problematic in chunks, and sufficient on the whole. It’s not the same kick in the ass that John Wick was, but the stylish action sequences and Charlize Theron’s performance are enough to warrant further adventures for the Lorraine Broughton character. Universal’s Blu-ray comes loaded with a vivid and sleek HD transfer and an aggressive, music packed Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The extras are brief, but include some cool stuff, like fight scene promos and animatic breakdowns.

 Atomic Blonde

 Atomic Blonde

 Atomic Blonde
*Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: