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Why Atomic Blonde Kicks Baby Driver’s Ass

July 25, 2017

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My recent takedown of Baby Driver seems to have hit a nerve, and I’m more convinced than ever that I was right after seeing Atomic Blonde, which is the movie that writer-director Edgar Wright’s twee critics’ darling wishes it could be. To wit:

Charlize Theron > Ansel Elgort. The Oscar-winning actress has been kicking ass since Baby Driver‘s star was literally a baby. More than 20 years after her breakout role as a mobster’s moll in 1996’s 2 Days in the Valley (in which she beat up Teri Hatcher), Theron just keeps getting fiercer. This time, she plays a spy who will stop at nothing to retrieve a list of Soviet spies on the eve of the Berlin Wall’s fall. She brings a world-weary gravitas to the role as well as superior screen-fighting skills. As for Elgort, I’m told he’s adorable. Sorry, I don’t see it.

The music stays in tune with the story. Much has been made about Baby Driver‘s soundtrack, which preceded Wright’s screenplay, and how it’s synchronized with some of the film’s scenes. But it struck me as a random assemblage of pop tunes,  like Wright just put his iPod on shuffle: Beck, T. Rex, David McCallum, Martha and the Vandellas, Blur, Barry White, Queen. Atomic Blonde‘s New Wave-themed soundtrack, on the other hand, syncs up perfectly with the film’s 1989 setting and comments on the film’s story at the same time: ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry,” A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran (So Far Away),” Falco’s “Der Kommisar,” Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom,” Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” And if you don’t get a kick out of the scene in which a Russian thug stomps on a boombox playing Nena’s eternally annoying “99 Luftballons,” there’s something wrong with you. (Plus, why does Baby Driver wait until the closing credits to play the Simon & Garfunkel song that inspired its title?)

The action never stops. Baby Driver comes to a screeching halt whenever Elgort’s Baby starts making goo-goo eyes with a miscast Lily James as an Atlanta waitress. But Atomic Blonde reaches nuclear-level intensity when Theron’s secret agent goes undercover with The Mummy‘s Sofia Boutella as a French femme fatale.

The supporting actors provides real support. Baby Driver‘s ensemble either hams it up (Jon Hamm) or coasts on their previous personae (Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx). Atomic Blonde, on the other hand, allows its cast to show new sides of their talent, whether it’s a slimmed-down John Goodman as a cagey CIA agent or the often-underrated James McAvoy as MI6’s dissolute Berlin station chief. And there may be no actor better-suited to espionage dramas than Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Secret Agent), who looks like the live-action embodiment of the latter, constantly-trying-to-take-over-the-world half of Pinky and the Brain.

The director puts you in the driver’s seat. A former stunt double for Jean-Claude Van Damme, Atomic Blonde helmer David Leitch (in his directorial debut, although he did uncredited work on John Wick) puts you in the middle of the action. Most notably, there’s a car-chase scene that leaves Baby Driver‘s wannabe-Bullitt sequences in the dust. The only action film that gives Atomic Blonde a real run for its money in the smash-’em-up department is The Villainess, the South Korean sensation also directed by a former stunt man, Byung-gil Jung, and hitting U.S. theaters on August 28.

Maybe after he’s done directing Deadpool 2, Leitch can team up with Jung for a crossover sequel: Atomic Blonde vs. The Villainess. Now that would really kick ass.

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One Comment
  1. Oh! I’d say this is quite an unpopular opinion judging from the reviews I’ve read, but got to say that made me all the more excited to read what you have to say. I have to say you make some great points, and of course the one I agree with most is that fact that Charlize is hands down the superior actor here! Can’t wait to see her kick some ass in Atomic Blonde. Great post!

    Would you be interested in sharing your work on Movie Pilot? I’d like to invite you to join the platform, and I’d love to hear from you so I can to expand on that. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail, my contact details are on my “About” page. Hopefully talk soon!

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