Story matters. Obviously. But story doesn’t have to be the point of a film. Cinema is a barrage of imagery, and words are available as a tool but are not a requirement. American audiences tend to get caught up in narrative, dictating that their fiction delivers a unique concept propelled by compelling characters, even though most of the time, movies fail to live up to such a low standard.
I can love a movie for any number of reasons. Performance, direction, cinematography, production design, special effects, and yeah, story. If a film achieves perfection or singularity in any of these categories, or in the dozen others not listed, I’ll finish the movie with a great gobby smile on my face. If it accomplishes a few or more at a time, I’ll genuflect in its honor.
Atomic Blonde is a flick that scores on a number of bases, and with each rewatch, the neon-engorged movie crawls a little higher in my admiration. As the double/triple/maybe quadruple-agent Lorraine Broughton, Charlize Theron does more than kick ass and take names, she commands the screen with her physical dominance over all others who tremble in the frame next to her. Movies demand titans, and make no mistake, Broughton is a titan.
Set against the backdrop of Cold War Berlin, just days before the Wall comes tumbling down, Atomic Blonde is an action film of the highest order. The plot is a skeleton, or an excuse, to place chumps in front of Broughton to slaughter. The script weaves back and forth on itself, revealing a scheme that’s never quite as clever as it wants to be. Whatever convoluted nonsense sputters forth does not detract from the visceral nature of the choreography and the hard, impenetrable stare of its lead.
When Atomic Blonde reaches its climax, the story feels finished. The bad guys have been dealt with, and our hero has resolved her emotional pain. Dust off your hands, and go find peace, Broughton.
Action heroes don’t get rest, though. Sooner or later, if the audience’s pocketbooks are willing, a sequel comes a calling. We were not sure Atomic Blonde would ever receive one; its box office was modest but respectable in the states while it’s global earnings nearly matched its domestic. Now, we hear word that Atomic Blonde Part II is bubbling into a possibility, and may even land on a streaming service sooner rather than later.
Where can Broughton go from here? Let’s gander at the comics for a second. Wait, what? Didn’t you know Atomic Blonde was a comic book movie? Yeah, it’s true, although, without the presence of Charlize Theron and the kinetic direction of David Leitch, the source material feels very different from its cinematic counterpart.
The Coldest City, written by Antony Johnston, illustrated by Sam Hart and published by Oni Press in 2012, shares a lot in common with Atomic Blonde‘s plot. It’s 1989 in Berlin. The Wall is still ready to fall, and Lorraine Broughton is sent by MI6 to retrieve a list of possible government agents. With numerous hitmen and spies gunning for the same object of her affection, Broughton has to swerve through several scenarios to survive and keep her cover from being blown as well.
The comic is black and white, with not a drop of neon in sight. Johnston’s influences clearly stem from the literary works of John le Carré and Ian Mackintosh. There are no good guys or good countries, just a bunch of folks trying to survive and beat the other guy to the punch. The backstabbing gets pretty thick and equals the majority enjoyment of the piece.
In 2016, Johnston and artist Steven Perkins returned to Berlin for a prequel called The Coldest Winter. Broughton is not the focus this time around. Instead, we follow the weasely David Perceval (played by James McAvoy in the film) as he attempts to flee the city and protect a KGB scientist from his government during a catastrophic winter in January of 1982. Watching the environment and the situation sour his soul brings satisfaction to the reader, especially as how The Coldest City hangs over every action he makes.
Atomic Blonde pretty much picked these two graphic novels clean, and it’s unlikely that a sequel could snatch any more meat from its bones. We definitely don’t want a follow-up to fall backward in time. Prequels, um, rarely work out, right?
The Cold War did not have a clean ending. The collapse of the Berlin Wall was significant, but it was by no means a finish line for the conflicts between the nations. A sequel set in the early ’90s would still give Broughton plenty of space to operate in subterfuge. Planting her firmly behind enemy lines in Eastern Europe seems like the smart move.
Honestly, whatever Theron and company come up with will be fine for us. Again, the plot is merely a means to place one titan against many other opponents. Atomic Blonde 2 only requires Theron, a stunt-team, and some seriously unflinching choreography. And a little neon. Ok, a lot of neon.