Atomic Blonde (Movie) Review – Boom, Bang, Boom

Atomic Blonde (Movie) Review - Boom, Bang, Boom

Action movies tend to be best defined by their boom boom, bang bang action sequences—and if you’ve got a couple great ones, that’ll make up for almost everything else. Atomic Blonde falls into this category. As a work of storytelling, the movie is a confused and dull mess. As a feat of action filmmaking, it’s one of the highlights of this summer’s blockbuster season. Enjoyment of the film will depend entirely on how much you enjoy the set pieces. They are indeed glorious.

Too bad everything else is such a slog.

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Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde (images via Universal)

The film is set in 80’s Berlin (hence all the neon and dance music) right as the wall is about to fall (hence all the spies and paranoia). Charlize Theron plays an MI6 superspy assigned to clean up a mess involving a stolen list of the identities of undercover agents (aka the McGuffin in the first Mission: Impossible movie). Once there she’s partnered up with James McAvoy, a wildcard party man upset with his low station in the spy game (so he couldn’t possibly be aligned with the villains, right?). She’s attacked by generic bad guys immediately after arriving and fights more of them every 20 minutes or so thereafter. Along the way she meets a sexy/steamy French spy (Sofia Boutella) to engage in sexy/steaminess as well as a number of recognizable character actors making secretive pouty faces. She’s also telling the story to her superiors—played by John Goodman and Toby Jones— in flashbacks. Confused yet? You probably should be. This game of misdirects and double-crossings doesn’t add up to much.

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Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde (images via Universal)

It’s easy to see what director David Leitch (co-director of John Wick) was going for with Atomic Blonde. He wanted to fuse the chilly paranoia of old timey cold war spy thrillers with the goofball glitz of 80’s action flicks. With a story strong enough to allow the spy chills to stand on on their own, that might have worked. Sadly, that’s just not how Atomic Blonde came together. This movie is downright dull when no one is getting kicked in the face. There’s little tension, the plot feels meaningless, and for the most part the characters are too dull to care about regardless of their suspenseful situations. Aside from James McAvoy having a ball as another goofball lunatic, everyone on screen just scowls in an attempt to suggest depth. Even Charlize Theron, despite all her impressive ass-kickery, feels like a blank slate standing around frames looking sad while discussing a convoluted plot no one cares about. It’s really a shame, because the spectacle is fantastic.

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Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde (images via Universal)

Leitch was a career stunt man before getting into directing, so the guy knows how to stage impactful action sequences like few others. All of the fights, shootouts, and car chases in Atomic Blonde are absolutely stunning. You can feel every punch and it’s all choreographed with the precision of ballet. Since Theron is wearing a bad blonde wig, she can easily be subbed out for a stunt-woman through hidden edits to make for some remarkable rounds of punchy-punchy. In particular, the climax is made to feel like a single sustained take that rips through a derelict building and then spills into a car chase on the streets. It is without a doubt one of the most technically and physically impressive action sequences to come along all summer. Yet, it doesn’t make the impact that it should because it’s so hard to care about the characters and scenario when it arrives. The film is sumptuous style with little substance, from the glorious punchouts to the neon glow and iconic dance beats of the 80’s setting. Atomic Blonde is brilliantly conceived as an action movie, but since everything between the set pieces is so boring and dreary, it’s not a particularly good movie.


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John Goodman in Atomic Blonde (images via Universal)

Still, that action is damn good. With a certain deadpan sense of humour acknowledging the script’s weaknesses (you know, like John Wick), this could have been one of the best genre movies of the summer and possibly even kicked off a franchise. Instead, it’s a decent blockbuster with standout action scenes. However, that’s enough for action fans to get their jollies. After all, there are numerous beloved action flicks with completely disposable plots that became classics due to their iconic set pieces. It’s unlikely Atomic Blonde will become one of those, but there are a few fights and shoot outs that demand to be seen by any fan of the genre. Whether you do that theatrically and suffer through the nonsense for the best presentation or simply wait for the good stuff to get divided into YouTube clips is your choice. But don’t miss the highlights if you love when movies make stuff go bang and boom.


Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (Movie) Review

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (Movie) Review

Luc Besson’s Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is an immensely fun movie. It’s also an immensely stupid one. That’s part of the fun, but that won’t appeal to everyone. The flick is every bit as overlong an excessive as its official title (which is so long I shant use it in full again in this review), yet it’s also filled with images, ideas, characters, and explosions that are unforgettable for those who love Besson’s particular brand of Eurotrash genre movie insanity. A good litmus test is The Fifth Element. If you like that bit of blockbuster sci-fi fantasy from Besson, you’ll probably like this. For the 20th anniversary of that movie—based on the director’s teenage fantasies—he’s delivered an unofficial sequel of sorts adapted from one of the cult sci-fi French comic books that inspired The Fifth Element in the first place. Valerian isn’t quite as good as The Fifth Element because it’s not quite as insane, but it’s also likely the most ludicrously lovable blockbuster to emerge in that mould since 1997. That’s either a reason to rejoice or boo, depending on your point of view.

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Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (images via eOne)

So, the plot—whew boy! This one is crazy and convoluted, so I’ll try to stick with the basics. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne star as a pair of special agent space cops who solve intergalactic crimes in between rounds of flirtatious banter. As you’d expect, the flick is about their biggest caper to date that they almost stumble into by accident. It opens with a dream DeHaan has of an alien race that looks like Avatar on acid being annihilated. The duo then find themselves on a mission at a space mall so gigantic that it can only be accessed through VR headsets that allow shoppers to visit stores across several dimensions. Just when you start to wrap your head around that concept, Besson shoves the pair into a massive intergalactic space station where they protect an alien critter that poops pearls from a conspiracy involving a growling space army commander played by Clive Owen. Along the way they befriend a bunch of other alien weirdos including Rihanna’s shape-shifting stripper.

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Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (images via eOne)

This is one weird blockbuster and that’s why it is so much damn fun. It’s based on a classic French sci-fi comic book series (that I must admit I’ve never read), but you don’t need to know that in advance to guess those origins. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets  is blessed with a neon drug trip aesthetic from another era that tickles the eyes with pure candy-coated joy. Every scene and set piece takes place in some deeply bizarre new setting and all of the props could be displayed in pop art galleries. Best of all, despite the $200 million plus budget, Valerian clearly springs from a singular imagination—and an absolutely insane one at that. The movie obviously only exists because Luc Besson was able to will it into being after cranking out a decade’s worth of successful Eurotrash action flicks like The Transporter, Taken, and Lucy as well as the enduring cult success of The Fifth Element. Movies this crazy aren’t supposed to exist on this scale and for that we should all be grateful.

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Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (images via eOne)

That said, the film is far from without its faults. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is overlong and underthought. For every brilliant concept or image, there are plenty of clunkers. The sexual politics are questionable (or retro, depending on your point of view), the logic is clunky, and the lead actors have little chemistry despite being star-kissed lovers at the center of it all. Undoubtedly, many people will hate Valerian. It certainly won’t score well on Cinema Sins or on blogs that strip entertainment down to politics and ignore the rest. However, for those who love to embrace the ludicrous and get wowed by imagery usually available only through a mixture of hallucinogenics and dated pop culture.

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Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (images via eOne)

Like The Fifth Element before it, Valerian is a movie of excess on every conceivable level. It’s much too much in every way, but at least Besson rushes through it at a fever pace. The film is one of constant momentum, never slowing down long enough for viewers to be aware of how stupid it really is until the credits roll and it’s too late to admit that you didn’t have a good time. That’s fine. The entertainment value never ceases—ironic or genuine. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a giddy sugar rush of sensation and a beautiful work of craft from a master of Eurotrash nonsense unafraid to fall on his face from stretching too far. This thing is a treat for that specific brand of weirdo. Hopefully enough of us exist for Valerian to be a hit.