Charlize Theron plays the mysterious spy we never get to know. The soundtrack is worth the purchase, just not the movie itself.
Director: David Leitch
Release Date: July 28, 2017
Firstly, I want to confess that I love the James Bond movies. I say ‘confess’ because I have a feeling that as a woman I should be insulted by the blatant objectification of women as a standard trope in the films, but I’m not. I think it’s because the sexual objectification of women is portrayed in such an exaggerated, stylized way that the women are more archetypes, Greek in nature, and therefore easier for me to not take them personally. The lesson to be learned here? Stiletto heals are fashionable as well as deadly. The overall spy movie lesson? Spies lead exciting lives full of adventure, intrigue, sex and glamour. But what about Atomic Blonde? Do the same rules apply? Well, as art does imitate life, the answer must be “no”.
For Charlize Theron, being a spy has some distinct disadvantages. While she’s beautiful and mysterious, she is often underestimated and treated more like the enemy by her own spy agency than an ally. Apparently, gone are the days of the helpful Miss Moneypenny, and here are the new days of patronizing, banal interrogations of one’s own spies. We first meet secret agent, Lorraine Broughton through her interrogation, excuse me, debriefing by her superiors. Yes, there’s a fancy wordrobe and great stiletto heals, but that’s where the similarities to any successful spy movie like James Bond end. Instead the plot is consumed with the need to show Charlize fighting a barrage of “same guy different shirt” assassins who present a never ending force of trouble. She’s tough, that’s for sure, but where’s the fun? Berlin in the 80’s was supposed to be wild, but we mostly see the ugly: fight after fight, blood, and guns, with no style or charm. I wanted to see sexy night club dancing, a dark stranger or two, champagne, somebody smiling with a gold tooth. Instead what we get is a story with a thin plot; the good guy is a Russian government employee with the names and contacts of every important spy in the world. Really? To make matters stranger, he’s memorized them all. Lorraine and her contact (and fellow spy in Berlin) are charged with finding the watch that he hid the information in and/or getting him and his family out of East Berlin. That seems hard. And it’s made even harder by the fact that her contact is an untrustworthy creep who continually tries to get her killed. The movie seems to want to be a ground breaking spy movie that turns the tables on us in unexpected ways, i.e. Lorraine becomes romantically involved with a woman. But this is 2017 and we’re not shocked by that or by the fact that she can kick some ass. I was, however, disappointed by the film’s low expectations of it’s audience, it’s superficial and confusing plot turns, and its overreliance on action.
Well, It’s Charlize Theron so she is definitely capable, and so is the entire cast. It’s what they have to work with that is not. It must be difficult to play a role in which you have no redeeming qualities, and you are not an archetypal nemesis. In this film, everyone is a bad guy, acting for their own self interest. Charlize Theron isn’t really bad but she’s not really good either and, unlike the many James Bonds, not at all charming. The character and thus the acting, while convencing, is one dimensional. Her “soft” moments occur when she meets the French spy she becomes involved with. Even then, we learn nothing new about her character, except that she is bi-sexual. There were many opportunities where we could have learned more about her through the vehicle of intimacy with another, but it didn’t happen. Theron remained careful and mysterious to a fault. Her lover was the only relatable character, as she played the role as a real person with believable emotions. She was also characterized as a new and therefore rather incompetent spy, so she had the freedom to play her character as a real human being, able to make honest mistakes. That had to be more satisfying than who Theron played.
Okay, this is the only really enjoyable part of the movie. As a teenager in the 80’s, I can assure you that the music is right on! Memories flooded in when they played music such as Der Commissar, Under Pressure, Voices Carry and (my personal favorite) 99 Luft Ballons. Needless to say, I love the music arranger. The filmmakers seemed to love the music too, and understand its importance in establishing the time period, and the mood in Berlin in the ’80’s. The use of music to establish mood and move the story along is really the saving grace of this film. Without it, I hesitate to think what a drudge it would be. The soundtrack is worth the purchase, just not the movie itself.
So I hate to hate this movie, but I must warn you about its downfalls. I hope to see a female spy movie where the character is clever, likable, relatable in some way. Where she’s got some support network she can count on, preferably with fun gadgets she can use, and beautiful cars she can drive. Yes, I know I’m not original, but at least I’m fun.