Director: David Leitch (Co-Director of John Wick/ Upcoming Deadpool 2)
I often forget how much less film-versed other guys who watch movies and comment on the internet are than me. The top YouTube/ Facebook comments on this film tend to be guys complaining about one of three things. The first is how the movie is a failed attempt to ripoff the John Wick style, never once minding the fact that one half of the duo responsible for that series is on board directing here, so there’s no ripoff necessary. Secondly that it’s unrealistic for a woman such as Theron, with seemingly little muscle-mass to be able to beat up so many guys, and that it is hurtfully encouraging. Never mind the fact that it is not realism that audiences are looking for to provide suspension of disbelief but in fact naturalism. Thirdly, the lesbian depiction acting as some sort of feminist or LGBT propaganda? Remember in the 80’s where this film is set when this was considered exploitation? Oh how the times change.
David Leitch finally with his Director’s Guild card makes his official and solo debut. Looking at the particular set of skills he’s gained over a very long career (see his IMDB page), he brought plenty of style with him even from his co-directing gig in the first John Wick movie. This movie is very well photographed. Considering Leitch’s former work as a stuntman, I found this surprising. Where this shines through is in the wonderfully quality of the filming, that occasionally and amusingly draws attention to itself, from a narrating transition effect to a fight set in a movie theatre showing Tarkovsky’s Stalker, you can tell with the on the nose soundtrack the director is having fun here, relishing in his top billing a bit more than his partner had doing John Wick: Chapter 2. He is also able to pull out memorable performances from James McAvoy, who is having a great year, and of course Charlize Theron, who doubles as producer. Eddie Marsan, John Goodman and Toby Jones all provide great supporting work as they do best, along with Bill Skarsgard who looks exactly like Michael Pitt (not that anyone else notices), and Sofia Boutella (having a breakout year nonetheless with The Mummy semi-flopping).
Those who are concerned with ‘realism’ and style of how the kicks and punches in the awesome trailer figure in the actual film- know that realism is not what they are looking for. Naturalism in a film, such as the action seen in John Wick is where the action of what’s happening on screen isn’t exactly believable in real life, but nonetheless plausible in the movie’s cinematic world. It’s an easier job to sell for men who are staked in action like Keanu Reeves coming off The Matrix or taken somewhat for granted like Tom Cruise in the excellent Mission: Impossible series. The reason I think the idea of a woman beating up guys seems initially hard to swallow or is all the rage isn’t because it’s a woman. After all, Gina Carano, Rebecca Fergusson and Michelle Rodriguez had no problem doing it. The reason seems to be the problem is that- it’s Charlize Theron.
Theron is an interesting figure in Hollywood. Her looks are what got her noticed as a model and she graduated to acting and Oscar glory by subverting them. Since winning an Academy Award for portraying real life male serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Theron has since slid into the usually male-dominated action space, most notably stealing the show with Mad Max: Fury Road. I wonder if any group of men beyond that film consider her success somehow a feminist threat to them?
Well, if the feminism involves (of note: this movie passes the Bechdel test) an R-rated lesbian sex scene between two models under the direction of the male gaze, I don’t really understand the complaints. The other criticism lobbied from this group of guys who likely have not seen the film are the fight scenes: which are the best part. Showcasing a secret agent who knows how to throw a punch as well as take damage, the audience feels every hit. Coupled with good sound f/x and makeup, outside of The Raid 2, I haven’t seen a hero take more reasonable damage like Lorraine Broughton has. She slows down, gets tired, and so do her enemies its believable and interesting.
Rating: Atomic Blonde is a good time at the movies with exceptional eye-candy and standout action sequences that I’d recommend on cheap night or as a home video rental. It’s the perfect guy movie, but that designation at this point might seem superfluous.