There are so many ways that Atomic Blonde is one of the best martial arts films in a decade. The days of leaving the fighting film genre in the hands of lifelong martial arts practitioners who rarely could act a scene are, indeed, history.
The action subgenre of the ‘80s and ‘90s featured so much bad acting, or lack of it, that those in need for a fix grew numb for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s splits, “Nooos!” and “Aaaahs!” and Steven Seagal’s style of few words and several eye squints before breaking the enemy’s arms and legs in three pieces.
In Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron adopts a killer’s ardor without five decades of fighting experience. For six weeks, she prepared by training various martial arts for her role as an M16 agent, Lorraine Broughton, sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate a murder and recover a missing list of double agents.
Atomic Blonde is director David Leitch’s spin on Kurt Johnstad’s screenplay, which he adapted from a comic book “The Coldest City.” Leitch is best-known as a stuntman and fight choreographer and as a second director for another of the decade’s martial arts bacchanals, John Wick (2014). Leitch’s martial arts enthusiasm is deeply rooted in being a former student in the famous Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts, founded by Bruce Lee’s number one student, Dan Inosanto.
If you thought Theron’s role as a wicked witch in the Snow White series (Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)) was intense or you thought that her oomph peaked as Imperator Furiosa – the road warrior fighting next to Mad Max on the fury road in 2015 – you are in for a real treat.
The long fight scenes are shot wide open with Theron kicking down bad guys while executing more than 20 moves in a row. According to Leitch, he adopted this style of filming after witnessing Theron’s ability to memorize and execute punches and kicks as well as an actor memorizes lines.
The film is hazy, clad in bright colors and dark shadows. The action is executed to the rhythm of a thumping soundtrack with performers like David Bowie, Queen and Blondie.
What’s not to like?
‘Atomic Blonde’ plays in cinemas now.