Does a film need to have a good plot to be a good film? Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is an undercover MI6 agent who is sent to Berlin at the height of the Cold War to investigate a fellow missing agent, James Gascoigne (Sam Hargrave) and recover a list of the world’s intelligence agents. But no one is ever what they seem in spy movies like these, and Lorraine and her allies are keeping secrets from each other that threaten not just their cover in Berlin, but their lives and the lives of others.
Atomic Blonde is one of the rare movies where almost everything is working so well together – action, performances, soundtrack, stylistic direction, everything – but the plot is both overly complex and wildly non-existent at the same time. I may have seen it a while ago, but I forget almost all of the film’s big reveals and why they mattered, because they were almost inconsequential to the film as a whole; as Lorraine liaises with the drunken, roguish agent David Percival (James McAvoy) and becomes involved with the French newcomer Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), as they attempt to recover the list, the audience is unsure of who’s lying to who, who’s trusting who, and whether we can even trust Lorraine. But rather than create intrigue and mystery, this leads to nearly two hours of jumbled together scenes and forgettable communist bad guys; none of the plot twists gave the film any more tension, stakes or compelling moments, so it just operates on one emotional level: “this is cool, but what’s going on again? And why do I care?”
That being said, the film is somehow still ridiculously entertaining, with director David Leitch taking his John Wick coolness, turning it up to 11, adding neon 80s style and lesbian sex scenes and reminding us, “oh, that’s why we care.” The brutality of Lorraine and 80s underground Berlin is perfectly encapsulated in the savage stairwell fight, as well as many others, and Leitch has crafted some of the year’s best and most realistic fight scenes, mashing them perfectly against the Brit-pop-punk, edgy fashion and frenetic direction that makes Atomic Blonde feel fun, fresh and like nothing else we’ve seen this year.
Because in a year of heralded heroines (Diana Prince, I’m looking at you), Theron’s Lorraine is worlds away from the impassioned fight of Wonder Woman, yet equally as kick-ass. The strength of Charlize’s performance and fighting skills is on show here, from the brutal Stairway Fight to the shock-twist final battle, and her chemistry, particularly with Sofia Boutella, is piercing. But everyone is doing well here, from James McAvoy as the drunken spy to John Goodman’s secretive CIA agent, and even new Pennywise-to-be makes an appearance as Lorraine’s dapper friend.
So, DOES a film need to have a good plot to be a good movie? Apparently not, since Atomic Blonde is a good film, albeit a confusing one at times. The intense action, charismatic performances and edgy-80s-Berlin vibes created an atmospheric film that was easy to enjoy – this was definitely a case of style over substance done right.
And here’s the list of my top five favourite films starring the cast of Atomic Blonde:
- Mad Max: Fury Road – Charlize Theron
- X-Men: First Class – James McAvoy
- Captain America: Winter Soldier – Toby Jones
- Kingsman: The Secret Service – Sofia Boutella
- The Emperor’s New Groove – John Goodman
Photos taken from IMDB.com: