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The ‘Atomic Blonde’ Exit Survey

After a nice ice bath, the Ringer staff talks Charlize Theron, spy twists, and bone-crunching stairwell fights

(Focus Features)
(Focus Features)

It’s time to debrief. Atomic Blonde, a Charlize Theron–led spy movie following in the headshot-happy footsteps of John Wick, came out this past weekend, and we need to talk. After recovering from several brutal fight sequences, the Ringer staff came together to talk about James McAvoy’s furs, Charlize Theron’s ice-cold demeanor, and which actor should be the next to take on this style of action movie. Put on your favorite ’80s record, and let’s do this.

1. What is your tweet-length review of ‘Atomic Blonde’?

Chris Ryan: (1) Hell yes. (2) Always take the stairs. (3) I had forgotten what whippets felt like. (4) I need to listen to New Order for a few days.

Alison Herman:

Andrew Gruttadaro: I will never look at a hot plate the same way again.

Danny Heifetz: It’s a two-hour vodka commercial, but with less plot. There’s almost enough punching to make you forget how bad the movie (and Stoli) is.

Donnie Kwak: More like Charlize Ther-You-A-New-One, amirite?

Lindsay Zoladz: Tinker Tailor ~Sexy~ Spy.

Michael Baumann: YOU’LL HAVE TO SPEAK UP I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THE SOUND OF BRAWNY MEN BEING BEATEN TO DEATH WITH A BOX OF DEPECHE MODE RECORDS.

2. What was the best moment of the movie?

Kwak: It has to be the staircase fight scene — notably the only action sequence without an overbearing musical soundtrack — in which Lorraine offs a coterie of Commies using MMA moves, firearms, and various household objects. Honorable mention: all the Stoli drinking and luxurious cigarette smoking (sorry CDC). And, of course, making contact with the French operative.

K. Austin Collins: No competition: the stairwell fight.

Baumann: Once I realized the stairwell fight was one long take, it took me out of it, but I’m still in awe of how difficult that must’ve been to pull off.

Gruttadaro: Well, the stair fight — DUH — but specifically toward the end of it, when Charlize and a really big Russian dude are both staggering around, completely beat to shit, waiting for the other to make the next move. "All of my internal organs are busted, but I guess I need to finish this." That was real and funny and great to me.

Ryan: Everyone is going to say the stairwell fight, so I’m going to go with the kitchen fight. I think more action scenes should involve kitchen appliances, and there was a real beauty to the choreography. It was like Bob Fosse directing The Bourne Supremacy.

(Focus Features)
(Focus Features)

Zoladz: When Charlize Theron stabbed a guy in the face with a key in front of a large movie screen playing Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker — surely the way the great Russian filmmaker intended his masterpiece to be experienced.

Herman: Finally, the stiletto gets to be shown as the deadly combat weapon women have always known it to be.

3. What was your least favorite part of the film?

Zoladz: When it was over? Sure, this movie was more stylish than substantial, and it didn’t even try to reinvent the spy thriller, but it was exactly the sort of entertaining, nonfranchise fare I was craving at this moment in the summer. Also, I saw it in one of those theaters with the recliner seats that go all the way back, so when it was over I did not want to leave.

Chris Ryan: Great action movies should be simple. They killed his dog. Alan Rickman is taking over a skyscraper. For a film that gave so few Scheißes, Atomic Blonde wasted a lot of breath on way too many plotlines and the least sensical of them was … Delphine? What was that about? I mean aside from, "Blue Is the Warmest Color is cool, but you know what’s really cool? Blue Is the Warmest Color with New Order and guys getting their arms broken."

Herman: All of the parts that were not either elaborately choreographed fight scenes or neon-lit New Wave music videos. Unfortunately and for reasons I cannot understand, that means … most of the movie.

Collins: I just feel like … leave Tarkovsky out of it? The fight in the movie theater, ripping through the screen as Stalker plays, was corny. Corny, corny, corny. Don’t do it again.

Gruttadaro: Between this and Dunkirk, I am getting tired of people almost drowning in extremely tight spaces.

(Focus Features)
(Focus Features)

Baumann: If you’re going to go back to the debriefing framing device that frequently, you’ve got to get more out of it than a couple of quips to put in the trailer.

Heifetz: Charlize Theron walks into a secret spy rendezvous point disguised as a watch store.

Theron: "I’d like to purchase a watch."

Waits three seconds.

Theron: "I need access to an East Berlin network."

Watching this made me realize why Mad Max decided to scrap dialogue altogether.

Kwak: The fact that the entire plot hinges on a list of spy names makes the stakes feel disproportionately low. I wasn’t expecting the Ark of the Covenant or anything, but couldn’t the elusive document be nuclear codes or at least the link to Donald Trump’s pee tapes?

4. Finish the sentence: "Charlize Theron as Lorraine was …"

Heifetz: … the only good part of the movie.

Gruttadaro: … proof that Charlize can pull off anything.

Baumann: … down for anything.

(Focus Features)
(Focus Features)

Kwak: … crazy, sexy, cool.

Zoladz: … ice cold, baby. In the best way.

Herman: … sexuality-questioning-prompting.

Ryan: … the best depiction of how physically and mentally exhausting it must be to be an action hero since John McClane in the first Die Hard.

Collins: … not a Lorraine at all? Whatever that means, but like: There was nothing Lorrainey about that character? In the way that John Wick sort of describes who that guy is; it’s sharp, it’s curt, it’s distinctive but anonymous. No offense, truly, to the Lorraines out there. But: Moneypenny is SUCH a Moneypenny. Draco Malfoy is such a Draco. In what world is Charlize Theron in this movie a Lorraine? I’m a Lorraine. She is something far greater.

5. What was the best use of music?

Herman: Who doesn’t love an ironically deployed "99 Luftballons?" It’s overdone because it works, dammit. Haters to the left.

Ryan: It’s a testament to how good a song "Voices Carry" is that it’s my favorite use of music in this movie, despite it soundtracking a strangling.

Gruttadaro: Saying it out loud now, it sounds super cheesy to use "Voices Carry" multiple times in a spy movie, but I was all the way down with both uses in Atomic Blonde.

Collins: "Major Tom" for me, but for the record, cut this shit out. It’s like the playlist comes before, and overdetermines, the movie.

Kwak: I appreciated hearing Public Enemy’s "Fight the Power" during Percival’s intro scene in East Berlin.

Heifetz: "London Calling," because it was the only song as cheesy as the idea of her getting tea with the queen.

Baumann: Lorraine cranking up George Michael’s "Father Figure" and then slaughtering a bunch of cops with a garden hose. It’s a completely different fight with that backing music vs. the "Personal Jesus"/"Black Skinhead" mashup from the trailer.

Zoladz: CHARLIZE IN A DOPE TURTLENECK DRESS BEATING THE SHIT OUT OF A BUNCH OF GUYS TO THE TUNE OF "FATHER FIGURE." Which is of course only the second greatest use of "Father Figure" in recent cinematic history (shout-out to Keanu) but in either instance I believe George Michael would be proud.

6. What was your favorite James McAvoy character flourish?

Ryan: The fur!

(Focus Features)
(Focus Features)

Heifetz: When he gets smashed in the face and suplexed by Charlize Theron but somehow keeps his cigarette in his mouth.

Baumann: The best Porsche 911 driven by a Cold War spy since Nathan Muir in Spy Game.

Herman: HE FUCKING LOVES BERLIN, OK?!?!?!

Kwak: When he reenacted the opening scene of Biggie’s "Warning" video by waking up to a phone call while in bed with two nameless women.

7. What other moments in recent geopolitical history would you like to insert Lorraine Broughton into?

Baumann: She’d probably be too young for this, but maybe she’d have an older sister who took part in the CIA overthrowing Salvador Allende.

Kwak: Let’s send Lorraine to Seoul and see her jump back and forth across the DMZ in an imagined future when the Koreas are on the brink of reunification.

Ryan: They should do Iran-Contra next because that needs to be more confusing. In all seriousness, they can keep all the sets standing and do a prequel about Percival.

Zoladz: The firing of Reince Preibus?

Heifetz: Lorraine is our best chance at finding the pee tape.

8. Did you understand/like the ending?

Ryan: No more or less than the rest of the movie.

Herman: I couldn’t like it precisely because I didn’t understand it, a problem that applies to most of this movie’s bizarrely overcomplicated plot. "Goofy, stylized fight fest" is directly at odds with "sophisticated spy drama," and Atomic Blonde tries to be both despite the director and the audience clearly preferring the former. I can understand parsing out the set pieces due to budget concerns, but why not fill the empty space with witty banter and sex scenes instead of speechifying and hollow twists? Lessons to keep in mind for the inevitable sequel.

Kwak: I’m sure it made sense to somebody. In retrospect, her name being "Lorraine" was a bit of a clue.

Heifetz: No, and anyone who says they did is either lying or David Leitch.

Collins: LOL.

Baumann: Understand? I think so. Like? Not really.

Gruttadaro: Yes and no. I understand it, but I don’t understand why it had to be in the movie. Everything that happens after the debriefing should have been cut.

Zoladz: I loved it! I was genuinely surprised, and I understood it even more than Dunkirk, which either makes me the smartest or the stupidest person alive.

9. Which actor should get the ‘Atomic Blonde’/‘John Wick’ treatment next?

Heifetz: Peter Dinklage.

Ryan: Jay Duplass.

Gruttadaro: Easy — Michelle Rodriguez.

Baumann: It’s not quite the same thing, but Dredd showed the untapped potential of Karl Urban as an ass-kicker. [Calls Hollywood] "Yes, I’d like to request more Karl Urban movies please."

Kwak: More Sofia Boutella, please.

Herman: Both of our Bond also-rans deserve better. Tom Hiddleston needs an image upgrade post-Hiddleswift and has already proved his hand at dapper espionage; Idris Elba is Idris Elba. Give them a franchise apiece.

Collins: Just give me a Haywire sequel.

Zoladz: Say it with me: DAVID HASSELHOFF.