Atomic Blonde (2017)
August 3, 2017 9:02 AM - Subscribe

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.
posted by everybody had matching towels (32 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to complain about yet another "Mission: Impossible/Skyfall/probably others" NOC list plot...But then I remembered that one time (I can't remember when exactly), Kurt Loder told me that sampling might be okay to do.
posted by doctornecessiter at 9:28 AM on August 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

... I know they played 99 Luftballons twice. ... didn't stop me from singing along... or jamming shamelessly to most of the soundtrack.

I need to watch it once more through to judge as a movie, but I'll say that the stage-setting made me want to squat in west-Berlin, rock out to Peter Schilling, and turn some abandoned house into a piece of lived-in performance art.

tl;dr: I miss Tacheles.
posted by Seeba at 2:12 PM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

They played "Voices Carry" twice too, I'm pretty sure.
posted by doctornecessiter at 4:24 AM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

As we left the theater we realized that it is entirely possible that Atomic Blonde and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy take place in the same timeline. The Tobyjonesiverse is real!
posted by everybody had matching towels at 7:09 AM on August 4, 2017 [11 favorites]

That one fight scene, you know the one, made me tired just watching it. A+ would watch Charlize Theron punch people again.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 8:45 AM on August 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

As critics suggested, it was shallow, relying on style rather than substance.

As it happens, I like those sorts of movies! Style!
posted by maxsparber at 1:03 PM on August 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

The soundtrack and that stairwell fight choreography alone were worth the ticket cost. I agree with maxsparber. Style over substance, but oh, what style.
posted by arha at 4:32 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

the soundtrack was great, but indiscriminate. everything about the film was surface and signifier, gimmick and posturing. sometimes, that was really great. Charlize Theron was fabulous to watch; she is an talented, smart actress and she elevated a shallow character with nuance and intense physicality. but the writing was shite! i got so bored with the plot i just stopped caring. i watched the thing for the visuals, so it was worth seeing in a theater - it was quite an eyeful. what occurred to me was that it felt very much like an american 60s movie, set in the 20s: costumey, anachronistic, nostalgic. not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely commercial artifice and staunchly rooted in the twenty-teens. and even though era-appropriate, there was so much cigarette smoking onscreen (totally fetishized) that i left the theater feeling like i had emphysema. also? though i applaud her character having fluid sexuality, if i never see another girl-on-girl sex scene played out for the male gaze, i'm fine with that. let's see Bond in bed with a bro, sometime, instead!
posted by lapolla at 3:23 PM on August 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Plot twist! Everything is plot twist! By the third major switcheroo I was completely jaded, whatever... Should have been one last switch and she was actually with the lizard people.

But the style and the setting tweaked all of my nostalgia bells, I am with Seeba and want to squat in West Berlin.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:08 PM on August 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

aahhh! ah! So when I saw the first trailer back in like March I was so hyped for it I wanted to make a fanfare thread just for the trailer, or make an FPP, that's how excited I was. Obviously I didn't do that. But I was excited. Watching it in theaters was gonna be my birthday present. Now I'm not so sure. :(
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 10:57 AM on August 6, 2017

I enjoyed pretty much everything about this - cinematography, costuming, soundtrack, fights (with adequate bloodspray - I hate sanitized violence), ridiculous plot twists, tons of punks hanging around, and let's not forget the lesbians. Sofia Boutella is my new screen crush in a huge way.

I wish Charlize Theron would be cast as the next Bond, or that I can have a whole series of these. This movie made me so happy.
posted by bile and syntax at 2:03 PM on August 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I liked this quite a lot, especially coming directly after seeing The Dark Tower, which was a disappointment. The McGuffin is ridiculous--how a list of undercover agents behind the rusting Iron Curtain could extend the Cold War by, what was it, forty years, is never explained nor remotely plausible--but there's lots of fun action and I love the soundtrack. (Apparently, Bowie was approached to be in it, but didn't because of his then-unknown terminal illness; it would have been sweet if he'd been able to, because of his connection with West Berlin.) I was also amused by my previous speculation that this looked like the Black Widow movie that we'll apparently never get, because the last time I saw the eighties East Berlin demimonde was in X-Men: Apocalypse, of all things.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:03 PM on August 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I loved it too. I welcome the return of action movies where you can actually see the punches land in the fight scenes. Not the quick-cut bullshit of say, the Paul Greengrass-directed Bourne movies.
posted by donajo at 12:22 PM on August 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

We saw it tonight and loved it. I was expecting something quite different based on the half-remembered trailer I saw months ago, but I loved the fight scenes, loved the Cold War spy stuff, loved the soundtrack, loved the style, loved loved loved Theron. She was so good.
posted by rtha at 12:10 AM on August 13, 2017

I would have died of happiness if Bowie had been in it. I had half-hoped "Heroes" would be on the soundtrack, though it's not the right time period.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:11 AM on August 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

The seven minute "single take1" stairway fight was amazingly well choreographed and shot by Sam Hargrave. He was both the stunt coordinator and the camera operator for the scene, and says he took a few falls down the stairs himself during filming.

1. It's not actually a single take - they swap out Theron's stunt double (and assistant stunt coordinator) Monique Ganderton for some of the moves. The actual continuous takes are around a minute long and are stitched together to seem like one shot.
posted by autopilot at 4:11 AM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I did finally see it, and I absolutely love this treatment of this kind of protagonist. I love the way the camera treats her - i love the nudity that's not sexualized. I love the pan over her back muscles, I love the bruises that swell up her face and make her not pretty. I love her wardrobe and the way she uses it as a prop.

I love, love, love the part when they're about to start the debriefing and she lights up a cigarette, because it's 100% a reference to that famous scene in Fatal Attraction.

I love the new-old-fashioned style of action cinematography. I love how modern cinematographers are going ludicrously, luridly over the top.

But like, as a film, it was astoundingly unclear on a lot of basic points. Like, who was on this list? Was it just Soviet spies? If it was all the spies of every stripe, then who the fuck compiled that list? Because the person who could do that is a much bigger threat than the information itself. Why was she mic-ing herself up? Why did she visit James' apartment? Why did she go to that bar where Dauphine found her? Basic, basic stuff, because the scene transitions weren't properly motivated. I don't mind a film being shallow, but it was unclear.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 7:49 PM on August 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

I loved the movie. Actually I am in love with Charlize Theron and I may be biased. The fight scene in the apartment building is great.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:21 PM on August 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I had a lot of post-movie 'fridge logic' issues with the plot after all was revealed, but as a gritty James Bond movie goes, it's not that out of whack. And, wow, the fight scenes. The fight scenes were brilliant and brutal. So much style. So much hyperviolence. I am loving the stunt work and fight choreography.

And I, for one, am SO DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY that Charlize Theron evidently wants to spend the middle-aged part of her career being a groundbreakingly badassed action hero.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:45 AM on August 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

Loved that one action sequence. I guess it's worth seeing for that.

The rest of the movie is so bad though. They really kill it by going back to the frame over and over, murdering any kind of momentum—and for nothin'. There's no reveal, there's nothing cool going on.

The worst thing about the movie is that it seems like it wants to be about James McAvoy's character instead. There's a kind of clash going on, where the film is trying to portray Charlize Theron's character as a badass ultra stylish superspy, but it's also kinda showing her being boring and incompetent, uninteresting in any way except visually.
posted by fleacircus at 2:15 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wow. I'm wondering if we saw the same movie (which I saw twice within two days, the second time while taking notes about the use of music in the film).

I think you're beyond 100% wrong, and I hope that Theron being in the producer seat means we get LOTS more Lorraine Broughton films.
posted by Lexica at 4:27 PM on December 28, 2017

What'd you like about it? What about the song list was interesting to you? I like to hear what people think, and why they think it, even if we disagree.

FWIW I didn't like the use of music in this movie. It's not that I don't love the songs themselves. I get Voices Carry stuck in my head regularly, and watching Dark I had an OMG IS THAT NENA collapse.

I just dislike when songs are used literally and liberally? I like the song Sabotage, I guess, but I don't need to hear it every time Kirk does a literal sabotage. I wouldn't want to hear Killing in the Name when a character is demonstrating that they are emphatically not going to do as instructed. A little of this stuff can be fine but I think it's easy to go too far. It can be distracting and indulgent and kinda dumb.

Most of all, it can backfire when a movie tries to gin up enthusiasm with music and visuals when it's not otherwise earned. Especially if the style isn't good enough. So it didn't feel to me that they were serving up delicious portions of style, but more like they were trying to use style to do CPR on their mangled flatline story. On top of that, including multiple versions of songs just seemed to highlight a lack of depth.
posted by fleacircus at 10:34 AM on December 29, 2017

I had a few problems with music, just because I found myself thinking "dude, that song is N years old at the point the movie takes place - it's practically an oldie"
posted by rmd1023 at 12:17 PM on December 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Totally style over substance, but what style!

IIRC there was at least one Bond film about a "list of all the spies" that gets stolen off an MI6 guy in a foreign country. You have to wonder why the fuck they are taking these lists out of a very secure room in London.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:04 AM on January 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is streaming on HBO, now, so I finally had a chance to watch it again and it continues to be delightful violent fun.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:55 AM on April 4, 2018

Just saw it on HBO as well. Style over substance indeed but Charlize is indeed the action hero of our time now and long may she reign. And McAvoy is a treasure, especially when he gets to be a little crazy. A sequel to this would be an auto-view for me.
posted by Ber at 12:44 PM on April 8, 2018

Saw this last night, liked it very much, would totally watch a sequel or an entire franchise of this stuff, silly as it is. (I am not hard to please with spy movies.) It could certainly have done with a lot less smoking, because ew, but fun music and good fight scenes make up for a lot.
posted by asperity at 9:16 AM on April 11, 2018

I ended up pretty bored with the plot, but the visuals were great and the fight scenes were absolutely fantastic. As several others have already said, it was definitely style-over-substance, but I still enjoyed it. 7/10, would borrow from the library again (the fact that the wait list was about 700 people long and I had to wait months to get the Bluray in my hands probably made me more charitable toward the flaws of this movie).
posted by asnider at 3:20 PM on May 8, 2018

I came for the excellent fight choreography and cinematography and was not disappointed. Great use of the environments and editing to create very clever and visceral combat. I also appreciated how melee combat took precedence over gunplay. Firearms were frequently turned into melee weapons or disposed of, so when she shot everyone towards the end, it had more effect as a choice her character was making, rather than her just shooting everyone all the time.

Here's a short video of the stunt coordinator breaking down the apartment fight shot-by-shot that is worth checking out if you're into this sort of thing.

I agree that it was definitely style over substance. The soundtrack felt just one step removed from a Hits of the 80's collection, though some of the covers felt smartly chosen. The "list of spies" MacGuffin is comically overused, and I just lost track during the triple-crossing ending. Tying her mission more into the actual fall of the Berlin wall, like "here's the story of the secret agent that made it all actually happen" would have been preferable rather than just as a backdrop, because if you're going to go for a violent pulpy vaporwave fever dream, you may as well dispense with any pretense of subtlety.
posted by subocoyne at 10:16 AM on August 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Why was she mic-ing herself up? Why did she visit James' apartment? Why did she go to that bar where Dauphine found her?

She wore a wire to collect the soundbytes she used to frame McAvoy. She visited James' apartment looking for clues about what happened to the list and found the photo of him with McAvoy. She was probably in the bar to contact the Russian guy that she'd been feeding false information as the supposed double-agent "Satchel" (that's also when she got some audio of him that she used later to frame McAvoy).
posted by straight at 12:45 AM on September 28, 2018

Just saw this, and found it to be less than the sum of it's parts. The frame frequently killed what momentum the movie had, which was never very much anyway. A beautiful, stylish movie, but the writing could never gin up enough propulsion to carry me along, which is what this kind of movie needs to really pop.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:01 PM on March 21, 2020

I just saw this (it's 2020!) and had two thoughts: one, why had I never heard or seen of this movie? And two: this movie would be taken an entirely different way if the title were different. "Atomic Blonde" is ridiculous; just about anything else would be better & would help us take Broughton seriously, as she clearly deserves. Also, I would never have guessed this movie was from 2017, I would have put it in the mid-noughts, and was wondering how they got McAvoy to age.
posted by chavenet at 3:42 AM on September 1, 2020

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