If this was 2017 I might be getting the cold shoulder or a number of hateful comments for even uttering such a thing. But the truth of it is that Atomic Blonde was overrated not because it had a female lead, but largely because the script was ridiculous in the same way that 80s movies were. Does anyone remember how we used to think that the 80s and even 90s spy movies were so great because they created an aura that we accepted without question? The fight scenes, the chase scenes, the exposition scenes, all of it was mashed together in order to give us a movie that wasn’t even close to practical most times but was so much fun that we couldn’t help but think that yes, it was what we wanted. That’s the kind of feeling that Atomic Blonde brought back since from the start to the finish there were plenty of moments that could be labeled as awesome and impressive, but thinking that this movie was in any way revolutionary is kind of laughable given that Charlize Theron and pretty much everyone in the movie acted in a manner that was so over the top that it became similar to many spy movies from the past.
It’s kind of amusing how the more practical spy movies are usually looked at as being either provocative and mind-bending to boring and stiff, while the spy movies that involve shootouts and butt-kicking moments that are highly impractical are those that people pay the most attention to. Filmmakers know very well what’s going to sell, and action, sex, and espionage usually manage to overcome the simpler and less convoluted plots. Sensationalism tends to win out more than practicality, it’s a commonality among many movies in the business, and it’s not something to rail against, but stating that Atomic Blonde was a masterful story is kind of like calling Blade the epitome of a vampire movie. Both stories are a lot of fun, but they take the main point of the story to such an extreme that is difficult if not impossible to sustain when it comes to the core concept they both stem from.
Talking about a movie is very easy, but trying to fix what we think is wrong is so much harder since the court of public opinion and those that actually make the movies are likely to have very different ideas of what’s effective and what people will accept on a universal level. Many people know that the likelihood of everyone enjoying a movie, in the same way, is next to impossible since catering to everyone’s desires in any given movie isn’t bound to happen that easily. But there are times when it feels as though simplicity might give way to the desired result that might end up being a little more successful and even manage to convey the message of the movie in a manner that might be easily understood by everyone. In short, the problem with Atomic Blonde, and why it’s overrated, is that it took a very complicated approach to something that was simple enough by the end of the movie to have been laid out in a way that people would have likely accepted had the filmmaker trusted the audience to absorb and understand the main concept of the story, rather than turn the characters into super-versions of themselves that in the real world would not and could not possibly exist in this fashion.
There’s also the hint of ‘I am woman, hear me roar’ in this movie since it’s been made clear that women are on their way up and gaining more influence in the movies as of the past decade. The reason this is confusing and makes this movie feel overrated is that women have been on the way up in the movies for a while, for a few decades before this movie in fact, and the general notice of this hasn’t managed to sink in yet. The fact is that female protagonists and antagonists have already shown themselves to be tough in the years leading up to movies like Atomic Blonde, and putting a sudden “I’m here and you’ll learn to recognize it” stamp on any movie is cause for some people to pump their fists in the air, and others to just roll their eyes and point to the years that led up to this point.
Seriously, there have been tough and impressive women in the movies for quite a while, so thinking that Atomic Blonde had anything new to show us and that it was revolutionary in any way wasn’t about showing us that women can be tough too, it was added publicity to push a movie that was utterly confusing for much of its length. Was it a great action movie? Definitely, no doubt about it. Was it a ground-breaking, thought-provoking bit of cinematic glory? Well, no, not really.