Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

31 July 2017

Cold Fission Blonde

I was pumped for Atomic Blonde; I'll be honest. Charlize Theron, as her typical icy heroine, kicking ass and shooting guns while walking around Berlin in heels at the end of the Cold War. That sounds like a good time to me.

And it is true. All of those elements are a good time. But, most of the film is actually not that. Atomic Blonde starts off slowly. Charlize looks beat to hell at the beginning of the movie, and we should immediately be skipping back to the beginning so we can see who beat her up so badly, but no, we can't do that. The director wants to make sure we have a whole bunch of plot points first. There's a watch with a list on it. Charlize apparently loved a British spy who has been killed by a Russian spy in Berlin. And then there are three mysterious men – higher-ups in the CIA and MI6 – who have to interview Charlize. This set up takes forever.

Atomic Blonde keeps on doing that. We get long establishing shots of Charlize in her apartment making phone calls, of Charlize walking the streets of Berlin talking to people we don't know, of Charlize looking through ransacked rooms for objects we wouldn't recognize even if we saw them. The director is here for the mood and the mood is bleak. No one is having any fun in this world. We're here for the chilly atmosphere.

The deal is this: Whenever Charlize kicked someone's ass, I enjoyed myself. And that happens five or six times in the movie. The rest of the movie has to do with a spy plot that no one needed and that didn't matter.

And I wouldn't have bothered about the spy plot in my own brain if the movie itself didn't keep returning to it, insisting this information is important. What's worse is that this entire plot is completely incoherent, as far as I can tell, and so I was baffled as to why the director kept emphasizing it. (Bad directing advice I often hear given to student directors involves the phrase "make sure you're telling the story". Sometimes the thing you're working on isn't about the story.)

The music in Atomic Blonde is cool. Charlize is cool. The costumes are cool. The lighting would be cool, but I have to admit to being tired of this trend where neon red illuminates one side of someone's face and neon blue light illuminates the other. The fight sequences are really cool. James McAvoy is cool. Spies are cool. The whole thing is cool. But it's also just boring.