Titles are important.
Titles are sometimes all some people have to go on before they decide to see a film or partake in some other form of media. For example, an actor or director might pique my interest, but still, I like walking into a movie knowing next to nothing about it. I’ll even go out of my way to not watch a trailer for something I’m really excited for.
That being said, sometimes trailers are really awesome. Like this one for ‘Atomic Blonde’.
Charlize Theron and James McAvoy punching and shooting their way through the ranks of the KGB? And the protagonist is openly bisexual?? Say no more. I’m in. I’m just mad that I’m not watching this movie right now.
But can we please talk about that title?
I literally laughed out loud when those words hit the screen.
It just sounds ridiculous to me. It’s got the same campy flair as Tank Girl, but Tank Girl has the benefit of being 100% literal. I’m genuinely not sure what this is referencing, except maybe her hair color?
Despite that, I’m still excited to see the film, especially after reading the gritty graphic novel it’s based on: The Coldest City, written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart, and their follow-up prequel; The Coldest Winter.
Right away, The Coldest City has a cinematic quality that’s hard to ignore. The first few pages even feel like opening credits the way they give a flashes of action to set the stage, interspersed with the artists names and the publishing house.
Honestly, the most amazing thing about it being made into a movie is that the filmmakers waited this long. Cold War spy thrillers are all the rage these days, after all, there’s nothing like a bit of lighthearted escapism to forget about the current political climate.
The graphic novel shares a distinct resemblance to Frank Miller’s Sin City series in both tone and art style–granted, with way less blood. The art is simple and understated, stark black and white with little to no shading, which evokes a very classic noir aesthetic; dramatic and dark, paralleling the dual nature of the narrative which is told primarily through flashbacks.
Now, this means the timeline gets a little complex–jumping back and forth between Lorraine being debriefed by her MI6 handlers back in London about her mission in Berlin and the mission itself–but it also keeps the story moving quickly. This is a pretty commonly used narration style which gives the characters a chance to provide some much needed context and insight for the audience’s benefit without interrupting the action in a way that’s out of context.
It might have helped if there had been some sort of artistic shift in style to mark the switches between past and present. The story is just complicated enough that the time skips sometimes blend into the main story, especially since quite a bit of the plot is just talking. Which is not at all a complaint, simply a fact. Aside from a few intense sequences, especially near the end, this story has a lot more intrigue than action.
Lorraine is an agent of MI6, operating in the final days of the Cold War. Weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia, England, and the States are all scrambling to gain an advantage over the others. A list naming every officer–British, Russian, French, American, Italian–in the city is stolen and Lorraine is sent to retrieve it for British intelligence and discover the truth of the situation.
As with all stories involving international espionage, truth is fickle, and when Lorraine’s contacts prove unreliable, she must decide for herself who she can trust. Obviously, her relatively simple mission quickly escalates into something much more complicated than data retrieval.
What’s most notable is that the trailers have Lorraine fighting and kicking way more ass than she ever does in the comic. Sure she’s a badass, but she’s much more subtle on paper. More of a scalpel and less of a howitzer.
As most people probably know by now, this kind of upgrade is pretty standard in Hollywood. Dramatic tension is all well and good, but action and romance are apparently what we all pay to see. And they’re not wrong, except that they’re totally wrong.
Sure, I love a sexy badass as much as anyone, but there’s something to be said for the necessity of subtlety during times of tension. The Cold War got its name because everyone was tiptoeing around each other trying not to kick off WWIII. That meant there wasn’t a whole lot of international incidents and spies weren’t exactly fighting each other in the streets. Information was both a weapon and currency during this “golden age of espionage” and–despite what James Bond would have you believe–it’s kind of hard to get information if you’re constantly blowing your cover and getting all your contacts killed.
Covert intelligence gathering and even less subtle methods like interrogation were much more effective than running into an unknown situation with guns blazing, but that’s exactly what they seem to have Lorraine doing almost constantly. When she isn’t hooking up with enemy agents that is… Another “classic spy technique” the filmmakers must have learned from 007.
But Lorraine in the trailers is shown to have a realness that the book doesn’t get into much. Theron plays the character like someone who is bone tired but has to keep going anyway. She gets bruised and beaten and bloody, but she also gets back up. She feels real. The trailers show an intensity to the character that doesn’t exist in the comic and I think that’s what’s really going to make this character and this film stand out.
It will be interesting to see how all the complex elements of this character come together in the film.
So really, if you can look past the unfortunate name–and the distinct lack of spy-like conduct, but who’s honestly complaining?–Atomic Blonde just might be one of the most satisfying films of the summer.
A chic, female spy kicking ass in Soviet Berlin just days before the wall comes down? Sounds the Black Widow movie we all deserve from Marvel but are probably never going to get (no matter how many times they promise that it’s going to happen).