Gather together an abundance of ingredients, and repeatedly try to shake and mix your way to the perfect cocktail—that's often what Atomic Blonde feels like it's trying to do. Had it instead stuck to something more grounded and conventional, then it'd likely have created a more enjoyable experience.
Set in the late 80's, right before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Charlize Theron's character is tasked with retrieving a list that contains the identities of all the other spies in her organization. I should probably have prefaced with her being a spy first, but that role never really feels fully realized. The first 20 or so minutes feel more like it should've been called Atomic McAvoy, with James's character stealing much of the spotlight. Though it doesn't stay this way for long, by the movie's end, you almost wish it should have.
Marketed heavily as a stylish, yet gritty action movie, Atomic Blonde wastes no time letting audiences know that it can pack quite a punch. However, the punches that it does throw are few and far between, marred by inconsistent pacing, and erratic set pieces. Outside of one specific long take fight sequence (very similar to Daredevil Season 2), most of the action scenes had already been spoiled by trailers. And perhaps the term spoil is used a bit too strongly. If it had instead reserved that element of surprise, the action scenes still wouldn't have blown me away.
In an era that's no stranger to sleek spy films like 007, or self-aware shoot 'em ups like John Wick, Atomic Blonde did little to separate itself from the rest of the pack. It often feels like it wants so badly to be a bombastic call back to classic 80's cinema, yet flip flops repeatedly to try to appease a modern crowd. Too often does it put vintage music on full blast, kick its action scenes into gear, only to fizzle out shortly thereafter.
It also doesn't help that a majority of it all is covered in a drab, muted color scheme that coincidentally ends up being an accurate reflection of how mundane the filler scenes are. Charlize Theron does about as well as she can, given the lack of any sort of character depth. Too often do her lines consist of the start of a joke, followed by the long drag of a cigarette or shot of liquor, ending with a one-liner. It gets tiring quickly, and instead of calling it quits when it should have, the lasting impression is a bombardment of ending upon ending. (Think The Return of the King, but more so.)
Despite all of this, I wouldn't necessarily call Atomic Blonde a bad movie. It has plenty of pieces that could have easily been edited into a more concise, action-packed summer hit. Instead, we're left with an overbearing amount of downtime that impedes on some of its brighter moments. Atomic Blonde may have stepped on its own toes a few too many times, but I wouldn't say that it doesn't know how to dance.
1-2: Horrendous, wouldn’t recommend watching even if free of charge.
3-4: Potentially has some good ideas, but overall still lackluster.
5-6: Average, a decently good time; go see it if it's free.
7-8: A solid recommendation, and well-rounded film; warrants a purchase after home release.
9: No glaring flaws; deserves to be watched multiple times.
10: Masterful, must-see; filmmaking at its finest.