Atomic Blonde (2017): Was the Female John Wick Actually More Ultimate?

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Let’s face it: between the big screen and the streaming platforms, there are so many action films coming out nowadays that it can sometimes be hard to find one which really makes a lasting impression and leaves us with something. If you’re tired of action movies that all seem alike and want something different, look no further than forgotten gem Atomic Blonde. This 2017 movie was directed by David Leitch – who also produced and co-directed the first John Wick. It stars Charlize Theron as Cold War spy Lorraine Broughton, who is sent to Berlin to retrieve a list of all active spies in the city – though her real agenda and loyalties remain far more unclear.

Of course, the titular Atomic Blonde is the film’s main asset: Theron absolutely owns the film, and her character perfectly plays on the trope of the cynical Cold War agent who has seen it all. Her fight scenes are nothing short of impressive, and as someone who is always happy to see badass women in movies, it is cool to watch Theron kick ass in a believable way. She is often facing bigger and stronger men, and has to rely on her wits to beat them up and get the upper hand. When going against local cops, the spy even makes some creative use of a fridge and a pan to ensure that her adversaries are dispatched quickly. Not only is Lorraine’s fighting style impressive, it also perfectly reflects her personality and defines her as a cold-hearted and efficient killer.

From Berlin with love

Atomic Blonde even recreates the vibe of the Cold War spy thrillers we all know and love. Indeed, the movie is remarkable for having more brains than most: it is nice to see that the plot doesn’t just gravitate around the fight scenes, but that it manages to set up a proper spy mystery, full of double crossings. Of course, the Cold War setting is a solid basis for a good thriller, but this plot remains praiseworthy in an era where spy movies tend to become… generic action movies! To get this interesting story going, we can count on some solid characters: no one’s loyalties or identity are clear, not even when it comes to rookie spy Delphine (Sofia Boutella, who should definitely get more parts in interesting films), with whom Lorraine begins a brief relationship. The same goes for Broughton’s assistant and contact David Percival (James McAvoy, playing an “anti-Bond” in his own words), a feral agent with a love of Berlin and an agenda of his own. As for the killer queen, Lorraine herself, she offers an interesting take on the heartless spy, who first seems jaded and unimpressed, but gets more invested in her mission as the film progresses.

Another classic from David Leitch

The film was a hit at the box-office, and was almost immediately compared to the first John Wick movie. Of course, the presence of David Leitch justified the comparison – after all, he was heavily involved in the 2014 film, though he wasn’t credited as co-director.

Leitch’s style is very recognisable throughout Atomic Blonde: much like with the Baba Yaga, he keeps his colour palette cold and dark, and offers some extremely fluid and dynamic fight scenes. Of course, it is Atomic Blonde’s lengthy apartment fight which takes the cake and deserves a special mention: it lasts for ten minutes, and is a simply breathtaking, perfectly filmed brawl. The fight scene also has what so many others lack – an impact on the characters. By the time she makes it to the end, Lorraine is properly drained, and each and every of her moves has to be carefully planned to save her energy. A post-John Wick 4 rewatch makes the scene even better, as it is clear that both films have a love of long, brutal brawls and cold, phlegmatic assassins.

Despite its similarities with Chad Stahelski’s saga, Atomic Blonde is more than a female-led rip-off of John Wick: the film has its own universe, and a more down-to-earth tone. This is because it makes the most of its Cold War setting, and the beautiful shots of Berlin perfectly recreate the atmosphere of suspicion present in the original comic book – and in the city at the time. In short, Lorraine Broughton and her work deserve to be far more well-known. There are few female spies on screen who are as iconic and competent, and hopefully we’ll get to see more of her and Leitch’s work in an upcoming sequel!