Blu-ray Review: Atomic Blonde

It was inevitable that Atomic Blonde would be met with massive comparisons to its pull-no-punches action brethren, John Wick. Right out of the gate when the first trailer dropped that was the first thing that people described it as, “It’s a female John Wick.” Now, while that may be the case when it comes to the type of intense, in your face, unforgivingly brutal, beautifully choreographed violence that both films share (mainly due to the fact that Blonde director David Leitch directed some scenes in John Wick in an unaccredited capacity,) Atomic Blonde adds some espionage to the mix, as well as a kick-ass heroine who’s anything but a carbon copy protagonist.

Based on the graphic novel, “The Coldest City”, by Antony Johnston, Atomic Blonde takes place in 1989 and tells the story of SIS agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), who is sent to Berlin to kill a double-agent named Satchel who has been selling intelligence to the Soviets for years, as well as retrieve a stolen dossier filled with the identities of undercover agents that would all be killed if the list ever landed in the wrong hands.

Since the story takes place before the fall of the Berlin wall, the city is filled with spies from all over the globe, who are all there for their own reasons, be it information gathering, betrayal, assassination or to gain riches. Placing the story in such a character rich place during an extremely tension-filled moment in time helps add to the intensity of the plot. With Lorraine being thrown in with little preparation, we get to take the journey of discovery alongside her as she tries to sort out fact from fiction, and whom she can and cannot trust.

The pacing of the story is nicely laid out, and really picks up and moves forward with each action sequence. Leitch is an extremely talented action director, and it’s clear when he has a vision of how he’d like a scene come together, he’ll make it happen if at all possible. What makes Atomic Blonde work so well is the fact that Theron absolutely kicks ass…and I’m not just talking about her being awesome (which she is,) no, I literally mean she kicks ass, and faces, and legs, and just about every other body part you can think of.

Yes, Theron went through vigorous training to take on the role of Lorraine with fight/stunt coordinators at 87Eleven, which is owned by Leitch and his partner in crime, and John Wick director, Chad Stahelski. They put her through the ringer, focused on her strengths, and she absolutely brought it to the big screen.

In the special features, there are a few behind the scenes featurettes that show her training, and the moves she pulls off are amazing, and to watch them in motion throughout the film just makes it all that much more impressive. Getting to watch the action unfold with a camera only a few feet – and sometimes only inches – away from the action, with no green screens and no quick edits just shows how passionate the coordinators and stunt crew at 87Eleven are about making things look as good as they possibly can. And to have Theron devote herself to the painstaking process of nailing the choreography and putting her body on the line day in and day out shows that she’s intent on delivering the most believable action sequences possible.

And she certainly delivers on that front. Lorraine isn’t a super-human, or an unstoppable force that can dodge bullets just because she’s the hero. No, she’s an ordinary woman with an extraordinary set of skills, and while she certainly holds her own against any opponent, she also takes her fair share of beatings, and seeing her face swell up, or get all bloodied just adds an element of realism to the story that helps keep things grounded, regardless of how insane some of the stunts happening throughout happen to be.

This is best displayed during a staircase action sequence that takes place at one point in the film. Leitch wanted the scene to remain fluent, with one camera shot leading the viewer from start to finish. It’s an incredibly shot sequence, and to learn that the exhaustion displayed throughout it actually wasn’t scripted, and was really Theron and the stuntmen struggling to stay on their feet after such an intense amount of non-stop filming really only adds to how beautifully handled it was. Everyone involved in that scene should be proud, as it’s easily the best single action sequence of the year.

Atomic Blonde is a film that oozes sex and violence in all the right ways. It’s stylistically shot in an incredibly fun way to keep the intensity up when needed, and take a down a notch when required. The soundtrack perfectly fits into the themes, era and atmosphere, and definitely adds an element of flare that Leitch clearly envisioned out of the gate. The cast is superb, with James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, and Toby Jones all helping weave the web of this spy-thriller alongside Theron.

In short: Atomic Blonde is one of the most kick-ass action movies you’ll see this year. Don’t miss it!

The Blu-ray transfer of the film looks and sounds fantastic. Universal has done a top-notch job here, as the atmospheric tones that are important to the film aren’t lost at any point. The sound design is also handled incredibly well, with the dialogue, sound effects, score and soundtrack all coming through beautifully.

On the special features front, there’s enough for fans to get a taste of all that went on behind the scenes for certain aspects; however, I definitely would’ve loved a deeper look at the training regime, stunts, and all that went into them. That said, while what we get is just a taste, it should satisfy the needs of most.

Welcome to Berlin – This piece comes in at just under five minutes and talks about how the crew designed 1989 Berlin, where they chose to film the movie that’d work best as Berlin at the time, and various other location spots used.

Blonds Have More Gun – This is the second longest feature at seven minutes in length, and focuses on what made Theron interested in the part, as well as a great look at parts of her training. Again, while I would’ve loved to have had even a diary of sorts that went through even a day, this small peak into the process just shows how grueling things were, and how much effort Theron put in to her character.

Spymaster – This comes in at just over four minutes in length and talks about how Leitch was brought on to the film, and what made him stand out above others.

Anatomy of a Fight Scene – At just under eight minutes this is the longest feature on the Blu-ray, and also my favourite. This actually sees Leitch walk the viewer through the staircase scene I wrote about in my review above, and we get to watch it all take place in a single shot while Leitch commentates from a picture in picture small screen in the bottom corner. Really love this one.

Story in Motion – There are two animated storyboards that showcase two of the opening shots of the film. These show the process Leitch puts into his storyboards, knowing exactly what he wants each day, while also showing viewers two of the animated boards he used to help sell his vision for the film.

Audio Commentary – Director David Leitch as well as Editor Elisabet Ronaldsdottir do the commentary on this one. While it would’ve been great to have Theron along for the right, these two provide some great insight into the shooting of the film, the editing process, and just make it a good listen all around.

Deleted/Extended Scenes – There are six scenes that can be watched here, that come in at just over seven minutes.

Universal Pictures Presents Atomic Blonde. Directed by: David Leitch. Written by: Kurt Johnstad. Based on the graphic novel by: Antony Johnston. Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones. Running time: 114 Minutes. Rating: 18A. Released on Blu-ray: Nov. 14, 2017.

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