Atomic Blonde is the kind of film for which the term ‘high octane’ was invented. However, it is not the gun fights, car chases, fist fights or flights from danger that define the film. What does? The clue is in the title. The protagonist is a woman. Charlize Theron plays the Blonde, whose name is Lorraine Broughton, and does so with a great deal of skill and even more cool.
Atomic Blonde is well written, which is more than can be said for Broughton herself. Throughout the film she remains a mystery in terms of who she is, her motivation for behaving in the way she does, her true feelings towards other people – even a lover – and so forth.
This can partly be explained by the film’s desire to keep the audience guessing as to what will happen next, but it also means that the film, as well made as it is, remains a shallow one. It is comparable, in this respect, to most of the James Bond films (Casino Royale excepted).
Speaking of Bond, while he is surely a source of inspiration for Atomic Blonde the film’s spiritual father has to be the Jason Bourne pictures. This is particularly the case in its stylised fighting sequences.
And it builds upon Bourne in how it shows the consequences of those fights. Jason Bourne fights and we see something of his injuries afterwards (e.g. the opening sequence to The Bourne Ultimatum). Broughton, fights and not only do we see all her cuts and bruises afterwards but even during the fight we see her (and her opponent) wheezing and barely able to get to their feet. This is the most impressive aspect of the picture and – despite its narrative shallowness – elevates the film from being standard action fare to something different, perhaps special.
I hope Atomic Blonde is a success. It’s good to see a female lead in this kind of picture. May it continue until it becomes not worth mentioning. And I hope the will be a sequel. We have unfinished business with Lorraine Broughton. A film that told her story would provide a context for this film and deepen our understanding of her character, adding depth to the two films as a whole.