It’s not always fair when we compare new movies to James Bond. Nothing can truly measure up the legacy of 50+ years that the British spy has established. Nevertheless “It’s like Bond, but…” is a convenient narrative shorthand and has been used plentifully in the lead up to the release of Atomic Blonde. In the new movie, based on a series of graphic novels, Charlize Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, a long-standing MI6 agent with a history of getting results, no matter what it takes.
Things turn personal (as they are apt to in spy stories) when a former partner/lover turns up dead. Not only that but she’s sent on a dangerous mission into Cold War Berlin to retrieve and extract a dossier containing highly-sensitive information. To that end she teams with local station chief David Percival (James McAvoy), albeit reluctantly. The deeper she gets, though, the more she finds enemies lurking behind every corner, including those she once considered allies.
The first poster made quite the impression, showing Theron standing and facing the camera, a blonde wig showing up white in the monochromatic image, sunglasses obscuring her eyes and a gun at her side. it’s stylish and mysterious and pretty amazing.
The second poster uses an image from a key scene in the trailer of Theron kicking butt in a hallway full of goons as its centerpiece. The title is below that and at the top are a bunch of positive quotes from early reviews. This one is very much about selling this as an action movie, not just a sexy action movie, which is clear since Theron is fully dressed in this image.
Another poster featured a close-up (though from the side) of Theron, her bright hair standing out in the black and white photo and a gun shown against her shoulder.
One final poster was released at Comic-Con, where the movie had various other promotional efforts going on. This one features original artwork and not just a photo, as it basically mashes up Theron’s poses from the previous one-sheets, the one with her sporting shades and the one with a gun draped across her arm. In the background you can see a sea of umbrellas opened just as in the trailers. There are a few other smaller images thrown in there to add some texture and details. There’s an appeal at the bottom to see it in Dolby Cinema at AMC, promising “Atomic sounds. Brighter blondes.”
The first trailer starts out with Broughton suiting up for action before cutting to her taking on a group of bad guys single handedly in what may already be one of the best action sequences of 2017. We then get a bit more of her backstory finding out she’s an MI6 operative with a strong and violent skill set. She’s tasked with retrieving a document from Berlin and finding out who’s killing intelligence operatives, which involves seducing a female source and causing all kinds of damage in the process.
It’s a really good trailer and I’m absolutely here for Theron and other female stars in more action roles like this, even if I do have some issues with both how it’s being sold and how the press framed the debut of the trailer.
The second trailer starts off with Broughton narrating how how she chose this dangerous life before taking out a room full of bad guys single handedly. We get her background and find out with her what her mission is. Her trip to Berlin doesn’t start off as expected, though, until she meets her contact in the city. From there it’s’ more sexy outfits and her doing some sexy meeting of a French intelligence agent. She talks about how someone on the inside has set her up and she’s going to take it very personally. All that happens along with footage of her beating up even more various henchmen and other baddies.
The part that works best here is that it presents a more linear, cohesive story for the movie. We get a better sense of the stakes and the relationships and that all works to sell even more effectively what already looks like a fun, if violent, movie.
Online and Social
The official website opens by playing the second trailer. After that you see the key art of a cold, seductive, deadly assassin wearing shades, a bleach blond wig and ready for action. There’s a button on the bottom of the page encouraging you to Get Tickets. Also down there, just before the links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles, is a link to the “It Gets Better Project” that helps support LGBTQ kids. There’s also a link to “Make Your Own I Am Atomic” image, which lets you upload a picture and choose your own word, then download the result as a GIF to share on the social network of your choice.
Back to the main site, in the drop-down menu on the left the first choice is another chance to buy tickets. That’s followed by “Videos,” which is where you can watch both the trailers as well as the short teasers for them.
Next up are the “Chapters” the studio released over time. These amounted to extended clips from the movie that served the purpose of introducing us to the characters and the world they operate in, as well as continuing to give fans something to talk about.
This is the first time I’ve seen a “Gallery” that is just GIFs. There don’t appear to be any stills here, just three GIFs of footage pulled from the trailers. Finally the “About” section has a story synopsis and the cast and crew list.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A bit of TV advertising was done. This commercial, in particular, pulled directly from the scene used in the trailers of Broughton beating up the police in the apartment but added video game-like hit counters to the action. More readily seen was the plentiful online advertising that’s been done using the key art and the social advertising that used the trailers on Twitter and Facebook.
Media and Publicity
Before the trailer was released we got a glimpse at Theron and the movie as a whole with some first look photos that included comments from the actress about her training program for the role. More new photos and comments from the director appeared in EW’s summer movie preview. Theron also talked about the same-sex love scene that’s featured heavily in the trailers and how the decision to go down that road came about.
The movie was announced as having a substantial presence at San Diego Comic-Con, signaling it’s going hard after the geek audience. Not only was Theron scheduled to appear on an unrelated “Women Who Kick Ass” panel but she graced the special issue of EW that was distributed throughout San Diego. Oh, and the movie was screened for select attendees, given them an advance look so they can go home and online to talk about it to their friends and hopefully drive more ticket sales. At one of the panels Theron talked about how the story was designed to upend expectations and would be more than a little surprising to the audience.
Both McAvoy and Theron did the press rounds to talk about the movie, with him recounting doing some “sexy fighting” and her engaging in crazy dance competitions and lots more.
It’s hard not to get on board with Theron as a hard-fighting spy in Cold War Berlin. She certainly has more action film credibility in the wake of Mad Max: Fury Road but was always a capable physical actress, even before that. It’s no more a stretch to see her in a role like this than it was in 2002 as Matt Damon, primarily a dramatic and comedic actor, prepared to storm the box office in The Bourne Identity. To hammer home the point that she can absolutely play a tough woman of mystery a good chunk of the campaign was devoted to showing Theron shoulder-deep in stunt training, working out fight choreography and talking about the physical demands of the role. That emphasis may be an attempt to cut short some old-fashioned thinking involving the phrase “the weaker sex” and related topics.
With that aside, the marketing has a wonderfully visual style. It’s all glammed up in neon, dark blues and grays that evoke the bleak conditions that are synonymous with mid-80s Berlin, which was still divided and which has often been portrayed as the turf warring spies met each other on. That permeates the campaign, starting with the posters and going through the trailers and everything else. It’s sleek and stylized, just like the movie it’s supporting.