I was in the mood for a movie last night, and I offered three options to my wife: Sanjuro, an Akira Kurosawa samurai movie starring noted badass Toshiro Mifune, Mad Max: Fury Road, a movie we’ve both seen but which I felt could stand a rewatch, and Atomic Blonde.
You may see a theme there, and it’s a sign of just how much of an action star Charlize Theron has become that I’m putting her up with Toshiro Mifune without even thinking about it. She’s an amazing actress and also seems to be an impressively genuine individual; I’ve seen several really good interviews with her and she’s always entertaining as hell. (She did a great interview with Howard Stern a few years ago, but I can’t find that online.)
I had thought from the previews that Atomic Blonde was basically going to be a Black Widow movie without actually having Black Widow in it; that is not entirely accurate. This is a spy movie set in Berlin during the last days of the Berlin Wall– the Wall actually falls toward the end of the movie, so the very last days of the Wall– and Theron plays a British agent sent in to recover a list of active agents being shopped around by a former Russian Stasi agent who is trying to defect. It’s a great example of the genre; other than the bit where it’s starring a woman this movie could have been made in any of the last three decades without any change, and other than needing to see into the future to predict the fall of the Berlin Wall I could totally see it having come out in the 50s or 60s as well. It’s got this timeless classic feel to it that I really liked, and the direction, set lighting, that sort of thing all has this great old-school thing going.
There is no trace of the superhero movie in this, though, is the thing, despite having been based on a comic book.(*) There are some great fight scenes, and one of the things that makes them great is that Theron’s character doesn’t have a single fight anywhere in the film that doesn’t take a toll on her. If she gets punched in the face, she acts like she’s been punched in the face, and the film uses a framing sequence where she’s being debriefed by MI6 where she is covered in bruises and looks absolutely beat to hell. There’s an absolutely amazing sequence toward the end of the film involving several waves of two or three bad guys at a time and several staircases. It’s probably close to ten minutes long and it’s all one shot, and by the end of it Theron has won (spoiler alert, I guess) but can hardly walk and frankly is only barely still alive. It’s one of the best fight sequences I’ve ever seen, and it takes what was already a pretty damn good flick and elevates it to something very close to a must-see for anyone who enjoys action films.
I feel like this movie went under the radar when it came out in 2017, so if you haven’t seen this yet, definitely take a couple of hours and check it out. It’s a $3.99 rental in a couple of different streaming services right now; you won’t regret it.
(*) I know nothing at all about the comic book other than the name, so I can’t really address how well this movie works as an adaptation.