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Trailer vs. Movie 

And the real Atomic Blonde


ATOMIC BLONDE. So we return to the conundrum of The Good Trailer. On one hand, good trailers can surprise us like beautiful gifts. Because so many movies register as just above unwatchable these days, a lively little glimpse of something promising can be just the thing to get us through the long, dark night of the feature presentation. The trailers for Mad Max: Fury Road and Sicario made the desolate hellscape of cinema-year 2015 feel a little less bleak. They served as beacons of better things to come, distant mile-markers on a broken highway, giving some indication that, yes, it does get better. And they present a miniaturized version of cinema craft: tiny examples of the magic produced by the union of keen-eyed editing and the right piece of music. Two good trailers in a row can almost medicate against the ill effects of a whole bad movie.

However, a trailer can occasionally be too good for its own good. The examples cited above work as well as they do because they deliver just enough of the whole to leave the audience wanting more. They distill the essence of the source material, while retaining the fullness of its tone and texture. And ultimately, that is the highest purpose of a trailer: to suggest enough of the totality of a movie to make us eager to see it, without making us feel as though we already have. Someone — an editor, presumably — must decide what to include and what to excise. Should the trailer retain the pacing of the movie from whence it sprang? Should it be set to original music, an element of the score? Or to some rousing popular song that will win the audience over, with or without accompanying imagery?

When these decisions are made in a vacuum — in service of the trailer as its own work of art — these can get a little out of hand. The trailer becomes a short with a life of its own, separate but still connected to the thing it ostensibly represents. The trailer for David Gordon Green's Pineapple Express (2008), cut together from the more incendiary sequences and set to M.I.A's undeniable and ubiquitous "Paper Planes," made the movie look like the past, present and future of action movies — a perfect thing. The movie itself is not that, of course, though I love it very much. It is a stoner buddy comedy with a few shootouts that are not as well handled as the rest of the movie. And "Paper Planes" does not appear on the soundtrack. The trailer was a whole lot of fun, in and of itself. But it didn't summarize the tone and pacing of Pineapple Express; it gave glimpses of moments from within it. To approach the movie on its own terms took a second viewing, at least for me. (It's possible I assign too much importance to stoner buddy action comedies.)

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the beautiful problem of Atomic Blonde. I hung a lot of hopes on this one, based on the indelible effect of its trailer. The first time I saw it, some months ago, during a glut of soul-draining studio dreck, I brought it close to me and clung to it, heartened by its cold, blue glow. As we watched Charlize Theron's battered back emerge from an ice bath, as German cars careened gorgeously across rain-slicked Berlin streets, as our heroine brutally dispatched countless Soviet thugs, all set to a mash-up of "Black Skinhead" and "Personal Jesus," I saw hope for the future. That hope remains, though slightly altered.

The trailer for Atomic Blonde plays as if bespoke just for me. The pace, the ferocity of the fighting, the automotive eye candy, the selection of music all feel as if they were taken from some deeply pleasurable part of my subconscious. It is a fantastic little taste of the movie from which its constituent parts were drawn but it also sets up some unfair, or at least misaligned, expectations. One would expect that Atomic Blonde moves from car chase to fist fight with John Wick-ian pacing and certitude — wall-to-wall action. While there is ample excitement to be had, the trailer neglects to hint at the negative space within the movie, the deliberate pacing and slow humor, the nods to the long and storied history of espionage cinema that inspired it and to which it pays homage.

Berlin, 1989: as the wall between East and West begins to topple, Lorraine Broughton (Theron) arrives at the behest of MI6 and the CIA to clean up a mess involving the KGB and a purloined list of deep-cover operatives. She engages with David Percival (James McAvoy), an opportunistic British agent with a little self-made fiefdom and questionable motives, gains the trust of winsome French operative Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) and beats the living shit out of a bunch of big Russians.

Stuntman-turned-director David Leitch (uncredited as co-director on John Wick, 2014), aided by cinematographer Jonathan Sela, pours on the style here, recreating Cold War Berlin in exquisite, dense detail: a cool, gray world set off with pops of neon and suggestive windows lit from within. The fight choreography is exceptional, as expected, and Theron delivers a winking, knife-edged performance that suits perfectly. While Atomic Blonde doesn't sustain the full-throttle pacing I had expected, it might actually be all the better for its moments of space and quietude. R. 109m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

— John J. Bennett

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.


DARK TOWER. A boy who has visions crosses into another world just as the forces of good and evil are about to bring their eternal duel to Earth in this Stephen King adaptation. Starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. PG13. 95m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

DETROIT. John Boyega and Anthony Mackie star in this drama about people killed during the 1967 riots. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. R. 143m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

ENDLESS POETRY. Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky's auto-biopic about joining the bohemian scene in his youth during the 1940s. NR. 128m. MINIPLEX.

KIDNAP. Thriller starring Halle Berry gives her minivan a workout as a woman pursuing her son's abductors. R. 82m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

LANDLINE. Sisters (Jenny Slate, Abby Quinn) come to grips with their messy lives and their father's affair in 1990s New York. R. 97m. MINIPLEX.

TOP GUN (1986). *Insert sound of shirtless Val Kilmer snapping his teeth at shirtless Tom Cruise in the locker room. PG. 110m. BROADWAY.


THE BIG SICK. Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan star in a romantic comedy that breaks new ground as boy meets girl and girl goes into coma. Michael Showalter directs this deceptively simple, unassuming movie in which the deeply funny is juxtaposed with the devastating. R. 120M. BROADWAY, MINOR.

DESPICABLE ME 3. An out of work Gru (Steve Carell) returns to a life of crime, meets his long-lost twin and battles a villain stuck in the '80s (Trey Parker). With Kristen Wiig. PG. 156m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

DUNKIRK. Christopher Nolan's focused and intimate telling of this World War II story of pinned troops, outnumbered airmen and hail-Mary civilian rescue effort brings each character to life with the wave-action of hope and hopelessness. PG13. 106M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.


GIRLS TRIP. Almost 30 years after "Ladies First" dropped, Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish star in this crass tale of four lifelong friends' trip to the Essence Festival in New Orleans. R. 122M. BROADWAY.

THE LITTLE HOURS. Quiet life in a medieval covenant turns decidedly lustful when a young servant fleeing his master takes refuge. The raunchy comedy boasts an all-star cast that includes Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly, Aubrey Plaza and Nick Offerman. R. 90M. MINIPLEX.

MAUDIE. Sally Hawkins stars in this biopic of arthritic artist Maud Lewis, who painted in Nova Scotia. With Ethan Hawke as her taciturn husband. PG13. 115m. MINOR.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. Co-writer/director Jon Watts (Clown, 2014; Cop Car, 2015) makes good on a tremendous opportunity here, utilizing a talented cast to great effect and bringing the franchise back to its sweetspot. PG13. 133M. FORTUNA, BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS. Luc Besson's comic book adaptation feels misconceived with its story of an idyllic planet ravaged by humankind, poorly constructed military intrigue and a thin love story. PG13. 137M. FORTUNA, BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Caser (Andy Serkis) sets out on a quest of vengeance after the apes are pulled into war with a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson). PG13. 150M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MINOR.

WONDER WOMAN. Director Patty Jenkins and company handle the seriousness of justice and love overcoming prejudice and hate without turning pompous, and still entertain with outsized battle sequences in this fine DC adaptation. Starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine. PG13. 141m. BROADWAY.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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