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Atomic Blonde (2017)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 11/14/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/3/2017

Movie Guy #1: You know what we should do?
Movie Guy #2: Yell at our assistants?
Movie Guy #1: No, we should make a female John Wick.
Movie Guy #2: That's a great idea! Who should direct it?
Movie Guy #1: Let's get one of the guys who directed John Wick!
Movie Guy #2: Perfect! We'll make a fortune!
Movie Guy #1: Exactly. What could go wrong?
Mike: A lot.

The year is 1989 and Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is an MI-6 agent who is sent to Berlin on a top-priority mission. (Lorraine? The secret agent's name is Lorraine? Does she drive a mini-van?) A list of operatives from many countries is being smuggled out of East Germany and Lorraine is to ensure it's safe passage, for if the list fell into the wrong hands, the lives of many secret agents would be in jeopardy. Lorraine is greeted in Berlin by David Percival (James McAvoy), a fellow agent who is a bit of a loose cannon. (Percival likes to sneak into East Berlin and trade secrets for blue jeans and Jack Daniels.) Lorraine finds Berlin to be an intense place which is crawling with secret agents. As she attempts to clear the way for the list, she realizes that no one can be trusted.

If there is one plot device which should be outlawed, it's stories which are told completely in flashback. Atomic Blonde opens with Lorraine sitting down with her superiors to explain what happened in Berlin, and then the story jumps backwards in time. The problem is that this robs the story of any suspense or tension. Not that a movie like this would kill off its star, but what's the point of watching Lorraine get kicked, shot at, punched, chased, kicked, and punched if we know that she is going to get out alive. Therefore, we sit through the film's elaborate fighting set-pieces simply waiting for them to end, as we know that Lorraine will live. (We also know at the outset that she gets beaten up pretty badly as well.) So, Atomic Blonde is an action-thriller with plenty of action and no thrills.

And then we have Charlize Theron. A few years ago, if you asked me if I liked Charlize, I would have said yes. If you asked me today, the answer would probably be the same, but I've come to realize that I don't have much respect for her as an actress, as she seems to have only one gear -- cold. In movie after movie, her characters show little emotion and distance themselves from the story. Do we want a secret agent who is cool? Of course, but Theron plays Lorraine like a robot throughout. I guess her ice baths are supposed to represent her act of letting go of her stress, but we feel absolutely nothing from or for her. So, to review, we watch a character who we don't care about go through dangerous situations where we know that she won't die. Doesn't that sound intriguing?

Atomic Blonde is based on a graphic novel called The Coldest City, which I have to assume is better than this mess of a movie. I've not read the comic, but the story laid out here is a sad combination of the most cliched spy twists and turns and, as noted, a series of action sequences. Director David Leitch shows that he certainly knows how to stage a fight scene, and the one-take scene is certainly admirable, but he pairs this with a blue-tinted look which would make James Cameron flinch. All of this is a shame, as the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall could have made for an interesting movie. The result is a dark, bleak film which offers no thrills or excitement, unless you like watching people smoke, then you are going to have a blast.

Atomic Blonde was apparently written by a 12-year old boy on 4K UHD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 50 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain or defects from the source materials. The picture borders on being too dark at times, and it struggles from having haloes bloom around the blue lights. The level of detail is good, as the image is never soft, and the picture shows off a nice amount of depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As one would imagine, the track stays very busy, supplying the nearly constant surround and stereo effects. The action sequences are filled with sounds coming from the front and rear channels, and the well-placed 80s music sounds good as well. Every punch, shot, and car crash is nicely punctuated by the subwoofer.

The Atomic Blonde 4K UHD contains only one extra feature, an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director David Leitch and Editor Elisabet Ronaldsdottir. The remainder of the extras are found on the Blu-ray Disc which is included here. The Disc contains six DELETED/EXTENDED SCENES which run about 7 minutes. All of these scenes are brief and there are no new characters or subplots here. "Welcome to Berlin" (5 minutes) has Author Antony Johnston, Leitch, and the cast discussing what Berlin was like in the late 80s and the work which went into capturing the look of that world. "Blondes Have More Gun" (7 minutes) takes us behind-the-scenes to see the preparation which went into the fight scenes and the stunts, as well as a discussion of having a female action star. "Spymaster" (4 minutes) focuses on Leitch and his approach to the material. "Anatomy of a Fight Scene" (8 minutes) has Leitch walking us through the fight sequence which appeared to be one long shot. The piece incorporates picture-in-picture which allows us to watch the scene, while we see on-set footage. "Story in Motion" offers animated storyboards for two scenes, which can be viewed with optional commentary from Leitch.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long