The recently released spy action thriller Atomic Blonde has quite a few things in common with the 2014 action film John Wick: they share the same director (David Leitch), cinematographer (Jonathan Sela), composer (Tyler Bates), editor (Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir) and so on. Today, we are going to compare the two movies, analyze the similarities and differences, and choose which one is the superior film. As always, this is just my opinion, so be sure to comment with your thoughts on both films.
David Leitch (who co-directed John Wick with Chad Stahelski) has had a long career as a stuntman and stunt coordinator on some of Hollywood’s most important movies, ranging from The Matrix trilogy and 300 to Fight Club and The Bourne Ultimatum. As such, he knows what makes an action scene work: focusing on choreography, smooth camera work, and use of longer takes rather than quick cuts. Both John Wick and Atomic Blonde qualify as some of the best action movies of the decade, thanks in part to how committed the main actors were in the projects: both Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron worked hard to make these movies come to life, and they spent months training and preparing themselves physically so that they could take part in their own fight scenes without using stunt doubles.
What sets the two movies apart are their settings and stories. John Wick is set in a world in which assassins have their own code of honor, currency, and hotel to lay low in, and the story is about a retired hitman who comes back in action to avenge the death of his puppy, final gift from his dead wife. A rather simple, straightforward story that does not take itself too seriously, unlike Atomic Blonde’s. Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, we follow MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton, sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents. The story is too convoluted for its own good, with new characters being introduced left and right, and twists and double crosses that come out of nowhere.
Both main characters are assassins, good at kicking ass and taking names. However, Lorraine Broughton is too bland of a character, and the audience lacks any sort of emotional connection to her. The same cannot be said about John Wick: in the first 20 minutes of the movie you find out that he is a loving husband who just lost his wife, and the puppy she gave him was the only way for him to grief. When the doggy is killed by the Russian mobsters, the audience is pissed off and ready to follow John on his path of destruction. In Atomic Blonde, the lack of any real human qualities, backstory or development make Broughton one of the blandest female action heroes, especially compared to Theron’s performance as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Let’s talk about the action itself: John Wick’s is more focused on gunfights, while Atomic Blonde’s mostly features hand-to-hand combat. If you watch both movies’ action scenes out of context, you can safely say that they are all incredibly fun to watch, with great camerawork, choreography and stunts. However, in the context of both movies, I think that the action in John Wick fits better the story that screenwriter Derek Kolstad was going for. Plus, the identity of the villains and henchmen is always clear, and there is a proper buildup to each fight scene: the amazing shootout at the Red Circle is preceded by multiple establishing shots that show where the action is going to take place and where each character is located.
The only problem I have with Atomic Blonde in term of actual fighting is that most action scenes happen for no real reason, and the music used during them feels out of place. An accurate example for this is the fight inside the apartment: she is investigating it to find clues, only to be ambushed by the police (supposedly sent there by the mysterious Satchel). What does she do? She plays the tape of George Michael’s Father Figure to cover the sound of the fighting that is about to ensue (I guess?), and then proceeds to fight the Volkspolizei by using a garden hose and various tools she finds inside the house. While I do love the action itself, it feels so out of place compared to the rest of the movie, and there is no proper buildup to it. The only real fight that is consistent with the tone of the movie is the 9-minute-long take in which the fighting is brutal, tiring, and has actual stakes.
That is why I think that John Wick is a superior film compared to Atomic Blonde: it is emotionally resonant, the world is richer, the story is more straightforward, and the action is consistent throughout. While Atomic Blonde is definitely full of great moments, as a whole it does not work smoothly. But still, these are both some of the finest action movies to come out of the United States in quite some time, and I hope that the studio 87Eleven keeps up its momentum.
This is what I think, but now it’s up to you guys. Do you agree or disagree with me? Which one is your favorite movie? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below.