Movie review: Atomic Blonde

Movie reviews

Hello!

Accidentally, this week my blog has a theme – alternative (not DC or Marvel) comic book movies. On Tuesday, I reviewed Valerian (based on a French comic book) and today, we are talking about Atomic Blonde!

IMDb summary: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

Writing

The movie Atomic Blonde is based on a 2012 graphic novel ‘The Coldest City’ by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. The screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (writer of the 300 movies) was the one who adapted this property. It was actually quite refreshing to see a film written by a single person rather than a group of screenwriters of varying experiences. And yet, the writing was still a mixed bag. I loved the main narrative and its structure – the story was presented in a flashback with the verbal exposition being given in an interrogation room. So, the plot was both told and shown. The set-up for the story and the decision to start it from almost the very end also helped to establish the main character. In the first seconds of her appearance, we realized her occupation, her relationships, and her vulnerabilities.

The spy-world was also well realized, with some of its details being quite fascinating. I loved how the film spotlighted the way spies deal with their lives, both physically and emotionally (ice baths, drinking, smoking). The historical tie-ins – the TV announcements about the state of Berlin Wall – were cool too and help to ground the movie. The ideas of spies deceiving each other and always having multiple ulterior motives were quite neat as well.

My few gripes with the film were a single logical flaw and the conclusion of the story. The thing that didn’t make much sense was the fact that James McAvoy’s character was trusted by others when he was obviously acting shady. Plus, the picture’s motto was ‘Never Trust Anyone’, so the fact that the characters turned a blind eye to his deceptions was kinda dumb. Secondly, the film’s story had a lot of twists and turns at the end, which were really heavily piled one on top of another. I wish that these reveals would have been given earlier or handled in different a way because it felt like the movie had multiple endings and didn’t know when to stop.

Directing

The longtime stunt coordinator, stuntman, and fight choreographer who recently transitioned into directing – David Leitch – helmed Atomic Blonde. His previous directing credits include the first John Wick (with Chad Stahelski), while his upcoming project is the Deadpool sequel. Not surprisingly, Atomic Blonde has been nicknamed online as the female version of John Wick and, while the comparison is valid, Atomic Blonde is also very much its own thing. It has its own cool action scenes, which were choreographed superbly and showcased fighters using a lot of everyday props rather than guns. The way these fight scenes were modified for someone, who is physically weaker (a female body) was interesting too. I also loved the car chases with all the old, now vintage, cars (no yellow Fast&Furious Lamborghinis here). 

The overall tone of Atomic Blonde was also really cool. I’d describe it as gritty glamor. The gritty part comes from the bloody action and the truthful depiction of the life of spies. The glamor could be seen in the costumes and the hairstyle of its lead – Charlize Theron had an impeccable look with her long, classic coats and platinum blonde hair. The cool color pallet added to the glamor too. The punk influences of 1989/1990s Berlin (the combo of grit and glamor) were also felt in the movie, from the locations of the underground clubs to the visuals of the graffiti on the wall. The soundtrack of the picture also emerged up from this general feel and tone. The composer of John Wick and Guardians of the Galaxy films, Tyler Bates, did a great job on the Atomic Blonde score, by mixing together 90s English and German songs as well as their more modern reworkings.

The director Leitch also did a brilliant job of filming the action in a variety of angles. Every trick in the book was used – from long panning shots and zoom ins/outs to close-ups to handheld shots with and without the cuts. That continuous action sequence in the apartment building was especially amazing. Genre wise, Atomic Blonde certainly felt more like a drama/thriller rather than just an action film. Its pacing wasn’t super fast – the movie didn’t really drag (except maybe the ending) but it never got as exciting as it could have been.

All in all, though I had some problems with the directing of the film, I enjoyed it overall and I still think that Leitch can nail Deadpool 2. We all know that he can deliver a magnificent action sequence, I just wonder whether he can do humor and comedy.

Acting

Atomic Blonde had quite a stellar cast. Charlize Theron (The Huntsman, Mad Max, FF8, Kubo) was front and center, demanding all the attention for the best reasons. She was amazing in the role, especially in its physical aspects (she did lots of stunts herself). James McAvoy (X-Men) was cool and creepy in his role. His persona in this film felt like just another personality of his character in SplitSofia Boutella (The Mummy, Star Trek, Kingsman) was also good, though her performance was brief. John Goodman (Kong, Trumbo), Eddie Marsan (Their Finest), and Toby Jones rounded out of the cast.

In short, Atomic Blonde is a very entertaining thriller that has a lot of cool aspects but also some minor flaws. Not a perfect film but definitely worth a watch.

Rate: 3.7/5

Trailer: Atomic Blonde trailer

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Movie review: John Wick: Chapter 2

Movie reviews

Hello!

A non-comic book movie sequel, which the audiences were actually looking forward to and which was not panned by the critics, has hit theaters, so, let’s review it. It’s John Wick: Chapter 2! 

2014’s John Wick was the biggest cinematic surprise of that year. Nobody expected it to be any good but the movie blew everyone away. The whole old-school revenge story worked and actually felt fresh (it was neat and simple but still had some interesting world-building involved), the action looked great (no shaky-cam or quick cuts!) and Keanu Reeves’s performance was a true comeback to form. Now, can the second chapter deliver, since the expectations are high? It absolutely can and did!

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

John Wick: Chapter 2 was written by Derek Kolstad, who also scripted Chapter 1. Since both films were written by the same person, their narratives blended seamlessly: the sequel first dealt with the repercussions from the first movie and only then organically set-up the next story, while simultaneously expanding the mythology of the film’s world. I loved the addition of the medallion, which symbolized an oath between the assassins, and I also enjoyed learning more about their code of honor. We got to see a new Continental hotel too, which showcased the global aspect of this community. The usage of the variety of languages, including the sign language, was very cool and went in line with the worldwide theme as well.

The immaculate attention to the detail in the writing was on full display during John Wick’s preparatory sequence. I really liked the fact that we got to see where do assassins get their intel, suits, and gadgets – a lot of the movies just gloss over this. The scene with the open contract was also cool to see – I loved that they actually included secretaries into the story. Plus, the whole homeless network thing was a neat addition to this world – kinda reminded me of Sherlock. I also loved how through that storyline the scriptwriter started stripping John of all his devices – he only got 7 rounds for his gun for the final fight but that is nothing compared to the fact that in the next film, he won’t have anything (because of the choice he made at the hotel, which I did not see coming). I also didn’t expect a variety of other twist and turns that the plot took. I did not think that the Italian lady will commit suicide, I did not suspect that the first fight between John and Cassian would be abruptly cut by them falling into the hotel/the territory of peace and I did not see it coming that the Italian mobster would double-cross Wick.

Directing

The first film was a directorial debut for the stuntman Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (although Leitch wasn’t credited as a director, only as a producer). The sequel was only directed by Stahelski, but Leitch shouldn’t feel too bad, as he is now helming Deadpool 2. I really enjoyed the direction of this picture. I loved how the world building was realized visually: the preparatory sequence (which I already mentioned in the writing portion of this review) was amazing and one of my favorite parts of the movie (kinda reminded me of a similar scene in Kingsman). I also loved the glamorous yet gritty action set pieces: all of them – from the opening car chase (I love old-school American cars like the one Wick has and was kinda sad to see it totally destroyed) to the art exhibition finale – looked stunning and were immensely entertaining. This is partially because of the same sleek camera work and partially because of the great fight choreography in both the hand-to-hand combat scenes and the big shoot-out sequences. All of them felt energetic and explosive and even unexpected – the knife to the aorta and the knife stopped by going through a hand moments were really neat and fresh additions to the choreography. 

I also loved how the picture was edited: it had a good balance of action sequences and of slower character moments. The calmer moments didn’t feel like filler material: all of the scenes were relevant and included for a purpose. For example, the scene in which John discovered that he broke his phone during the fight – this incident appeared mundane yet it meant so much for the character, as that phone had the video of his dead wife on it. 

A few of my favorite scenes from the film were the various meetings between John and Cassian. I enjoyed their exchanges during their first meeting as well as during the bar scene. My favorite action sequence was the shoot-out in the catacombs. I loved how the historical setting – the catacombs – was paired with a modern EDM score (the whole soundtrack by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard was actually really great). Other small scenes which I absolutely loved were, one, Cassia and John shooting at each other through a fountain and, two, John using a pencil to kill two assains – it was such a great callback to an earlier scene, where some of the characters were discussing the fact that John had previously killed somebody with a pencil. Lastly, the movie also had short but sweet opening credit sequence, which involved the medallion – it not only looked cool but was actually related to the plot.

Acting

Keanu Reeves’s career track record has been mixed at best. In some films, the viewers loved him but, at times, they have also avoided him (Reeves has had his fair share of box office flops). But now, it looks like he broke the bad streak and is back in the game with this franchise. While he doesn’t have the biggest range as an actor, it can’t be argued that he isn’t a great action star. His stiff delivery of lines actually does work for the character of John Wick. His Russian accent was not the best though definitely not the worst one I heard in a Hollywood movie either. I wonder, what do the native or fluent speakers of Italian think about his Italian language skills?

The supporting cast of the movie had a few nice additions. Common starred as Cassian and Ruby Rose as Ares – two very skilled assassins. I loved their fight scenes with Reeves as well as Common’s and Reeves’s chemistry in those few dialogue scenes. Rose did an incredible job playing a mute character. She was just oozing charisma and she didn’t even have to say a word.

Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Riccardo Scamarcioas, and Ian McShane were all also great. Plus, they added some diversity to the cast, in terms of ethnicity, nationality, and even age.

In short, John Wick: Chapter 2 was absolutely amazing: it had sleek action, an interesting story, and pretty good acting. What more can you want from an action flick? I really do hope that we will get a third movie, as this one kinda set it up. Maybe we will get to see the Chinese mobsters next time, as we already saw the other members of the high table (Russians in the first film and Italians in the second picture).

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: John Wick: Chapter 2 trailer

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