Mrs Weale and I are currently ‘home alone’. Number 1 son has just moved into his own flat; Number 2 is in India with his girlfriend for the rest of the month; and our daughter is in Spain, staying with a friend. This has given us the opportunity to do something we don’t get to do enough: go to the movies!
Last week we saw ‘Dunkirk’. Any review by me would be pretty much superfluous: it’s a really good film – as pretty much all the real film critics have told us – and my only niggle is that I think Christopher Nolan’s decision to eschew CGI was a mistake: a few more destroyers and a few thousand more men on the beaches would have added a lot to the epic scale of the movie. Other than that though: brilliant.
This week it was the turn of ‘Atomic Blonde‘, the graphic novel-based Charlize Theron vehicle, directed by David Leitch. Uh oh, not so good.
Having seen the trailers, I’d kinda, sorta formed the impression that Atomic Blonde was one of those darkly comic actioners in the mould of Kickass, Deadpool or even John Wick (which Leitch co-directed): violent and grisly but obviously rooted in a fantasy parallel universe where the characters can kick and punch the living shit out of each other and still turn up for a rendezvous in a nightclub in a skin-tight dress and thigh boots without anyone being too bothered.
But so far as I could tell, we are intended to take Atomic Blonde reasonably seriously. The action takes place in Berlin in 1989, just as the Warsaw Pact is beginning to fall apart. A British MI6 agent has got hold of ‘the list’ – a document which contains the identities of a whole bunch of undercover field agents and which, conveniently for the product placement department, is hidden in an expensive watch. He gets his brains blown out by a big, bearded hipster with a foreign accent who takes the watch. Cue Charlize. She is sent by MI6 to Berlin to retrieve it. The complication is that there is a double-agent – ‘Satchel’ – within MI6 (isn’t there always?) who may be compromised by the list and obviously won’t want Charlize to take it back to London: ‘Trust nobody’, Charlize is duly told by ‘C’ (James Faulkner – last seen being barbecued by a dragon in ‘Game of Thrones’).
Mayhem ensues. Charlize is met at the airport by a couple of blokes who are actually Soviet spies, she realises this in the car and beats the crap out of them, killing one and crashing the car. She is then scooped up by ‘Percival’ (James McAvoy) the MI6 head of station in Berlin, and off we go.
Over the next – nearly – two hours we bump into Eddie Marsan, playing ‘Spyglass’ – an MI6 mole in the Stasi – who originally stole the list but has also memorised it; Sofia Boutella as ‘Delphine Lasalle’, a French agent with whom Charlize has a lesbian hook-up (which will please the T&A aficionados); and an assortment of large, bearded Scandinavians playing the KGB/Stasi contingent with whom Charlize tangles violently from time to time.
Here’s the thing: if the plotting was subtle, or the script had any wit to it, this could have been one of those guilty pleasure romps in the Guy Ritchie/Matt Vaughn style; equally, with a bit more backstory and characterisation, we could have had a semi-credible (in a good way) Jason Bourne-style high-voltage action fest. In reality, we get neither. The plot is mundane and cliché-ridden (the twists are chucked in with all the subtlety of a bowling ball being lobbed onto a ping-pong table), the script is leaden and the directing, with the exception of the fight sequences, is by the numbers. I started looking at my watch about an hour in and Mrs W was doing the same.
On the positive side, the cinematography was great: I spent some time in Berlin in the 80s before the wall came down and it did capture the bleak glamour of that era, despite having Budapest as the principal location; and the soundtrack added a little of the wit that was missing from the script (though I could have done without two different versions of Nena’s ’99 Luftballoons’).
To give them some credit, the actors made the most of the poor hand that the script had dealt them. McAvoy as the MI6 officer in Berlin came across as a petulant twat, but he was probably meant to; Boutella was pretty convincing as the ingenue French secret agent out of her depth; and Charlize Theron can certainly do a turn as a hard-case, as she demonstrated in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. On the other hand, Toby Jones and John Goodman both phoned in their performances, with Jones reprising his turn as Percy Alleline (minus the Scots accent) from ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’.
I’ve seen some online reviews suggesting that Atomic Blonde has some sort of man-hating feminist agenda: if so, I didn’t notice. In reality there are several gratuitous nude scenes – including some ‘hot girl-on-girl action’ – which don’t exactly fit with the Millie Tant worldview and I would be surprised if that was the intention. Actually, it is moderately refreshing to see women carrying an action film like this; it’s just a little disappointing it isn’t a better movie.
So, to sum up: it isn’t dire, but neither is it worth the £28 I shelled out for two tickets and I’m pretty sure we’d have done better with pizza and iTunes.