It’s weird to think that we live in a time where the 80s can serve as a backdrop for a period piece, and yet here we are. Anything else you might say about Atomic Blonde, its story is one that could only take place, or make sense, in the late 80s, a time of crumbling power structures, new world orders, and audacious optimism coupled with the extravagance of excess.
The crumbling of the Berlin Wall, which stood for decades as the literal embodiment of distrust between east and west, presaged the rise of hope, a light that promised to extinguish the darkness of despair. Hard to believe how optimistic the world must have seemed during that momentous period. Positivity may be in short supply these days, but the whirlwind of elation that presaged the 90s was enough to propel us all forward through the most hopeful decade since the beginning of the Cold War.
But, as the title card says early in Atomic Blonde, this is not that story.
No, the bubbling tides of hope serve merely as a set piece for David Leitch’s impossibly fun action thriller, which distills the end of the century positivism into a gritty tale of espionage, murder, and intrigue. Hope plays out in the background; in the foreground there remains only grim reality of good and bad, though just who’s good and what’s bad is the question of the hour.
Coming as it did on the heels of Leitch’s previous breakaway success, John Wick, there was an expectation that Atomic Blonde would follow closely in its forebear’s footsteps. While its marketing campaign certainly played up the frenetic, Wickian violence, Atomic Blonde is more a game of cat and mouse, harkening back to the good ol’ days of Cold War mysteries.
At the heart of the film is its 80s setting, punctuated by a banging mixtape of retro new wave classics. This sets the tone for central narrative, which involves Charlize Theron trying to locate a missing file that threatens to blow the hopes for the Cold War’s end wide open. Chase scenes are set to “I Ran (So Far Away)” and “99 Luftballons”; capitalist black marketers dance away their anger to “Fight the Power.” The juxtaposition of spy mystique with upbeat pop songs paints a uniquely 80s picture—hope in the face of unprecedented upheaval. The world may be ending, bad guys might need a bullet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go out dancing, right?
Special features on the newly release Blu-ray highlight the work that went into characterizing both the era of the film and the narrative itself. A bit of a passion project for Theron, multiple behind the scenes featurettes showcase the work the actress did to transform herself into Lorraine Broughton, the hardened assassin at the center of Atomic Blonde. One of the more intriguing features finds director Leitch going inside the infamous stairwell sequence, which further explores Theron’s training and impressive abilities as a performer.
There’s no shortage of additional features included in the release, which more than justify its purchase for fans. Those that missed the film in its theatrical run this summer will also enjoy at least renting Atomic Blonde, which was one of the most fun releases of the summer. This is a film that remembers what action should be about, and it delivers on its promises with full-throttle excitement. That’s more than enough reason to give it your attention and, perhaps, some space on your shelf.
Atomic Blonde is now available to own on Blu-ray.
See our original review here.