"Atomic Blonde" is further proof that it’s been a great summer for action films driven by retro music
I have a confession to make: When I love a movie soundtrack or score, I listen to it over and over and over again — and that’s all I’ll listen to for weeks, months even, on end. It gets to the point where it’s like muscle memory. I get to the office, and I don’t even think about it. I just B line to Spotify or YouTube or what have you, and play away (you can bet your bottom iTunes dollar that I’m doing that as I’m writing this). I know I’m not alone in the tendency to repeatedly play new favorites, just as I seriously doubt I’m alone in *this* new favorite.
So what’s the current subject of my affection? Well, none other than the Atomic Blonde soundtrack.
The film follows British spy Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) as she investigates the murder of a fellow agent and attempts to uncover a stolen list of double agents; it’s set in Berlin during the Cold War, just before the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.
Naturally, the music of the film is from, for the most part, right around that time. Many of the tracks are ’80s cornerstones that have come to be synonymous with the decade, like “99 Luftballons” by Nena, “Blue Monday” by New Order, “The Politics of Dancing” by Re-flex, and “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen. There’s a familiarity to a lot of the songs, being big hits of that former era. And that familiarity immediately takes you to the specific time and place in the movie.
But more than that, the very groovy, high-energy tracks really heighten the kickass, high-power action of the film. There’s a fight scene in which Lorraine heads to the apartment of fallen agent James Gasciogne, and the cops soon confront her after David Percival (James McAvoy), her local colleague with questionable intentions, tips them off.
Lorraine realizes she’s in for a fight, so she turns up the stereo — nothing like nostalgic technology to take you back to a certain time and place! — to drown out the sound of her kicking ass. The song at hand? “Father Figure” by George Michael. In the super dynamic, crafty fight sequence, Lorraine uses a hose and other household items to defeat her many opponents — and the action is only amplified by the music. Because, “Father Figure” creates a cadence as Lorraine packs those serious punches.
The music and action are in a symbiotic relationship: The fight becomes a badass, rhythmic dance of sorts when paired with the music, and the music takes on a new, empowered association. The two thrive on one another. There’s also the heel fight scene that’s backed by a version of “Major Tom,” and French operative Delphine (Sofia Boutella) and Percival face off to “Voices Carry” by ‘Til Tuesday.
Other songs played throughout the film include “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode, “London Calling” by The Clash, “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy, and “Common People” by Pulp. There’s even some cool remixes and covers too. Altogether, the music is so integral to the action and film more broadly that the absence of it in the climactic stairwell fight scene is extremely jarring.
So yeah, these jams will give you the strength to take on anything and everything, and might make you feel sentimental. But, again, Atomic Blonde is a movie set in the ‘80s, so it totally makes sense that it predominantly features music of that time. What’s interesting is that some other action-film standouts from the summer are also driven by retro music, despite being set in modern times and even in the future.
Like, Baby Driver and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, respectively.
Baby Driver is a modern crime-musical that centers on Baby (Ansel Elgort), a getaway driver who’s forced into taking on one last job that’s destined for failure. Baby constantly listens to music — mostly via iPod, another example of nostalgic technology — to mask the sounds of his hearing impairment. And we have to say, he has really, really eclectic, old-school taste.
Just look to the opening scene, in which Baby listens to “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion while waiting for his heist mates to rob a bank, and then speedily drives away. There are other throwback hits throughout the soundtrack, like “B-A-B-Y” by Carla Thomas, “Brighton Rock” by Queen, “Let’s Go Away for Awhile” by The Beach Boys, “Neat Neat Neat” by The Damned, and “Nowhere to Run” by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas.
Then there’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. After the first movie and its Awesome Mix cassette tape — again, retro tech — it’s no surprise that the sequel would also feature the dopest tunes of previous eras via another Awesome Mix. From its opening alone — with Baby Groot dancing to “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra, while his fellow Guardians fight a monster in the background — it’s clear that the sequel is not only following the cool, musical path laid out by its predecessor, but improving upon it.
And of course, there are many other bangers. Hits like “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, “Bring It on Home to Me” by Sam Cooke, “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass, “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, and many others are on the mix.
All this is to say that combine some badass action and rocking songs, and you have something especially amazing, engaging, entertaining, and enthralling — and it’s that much better with the retro treatment. Here’s to hoping there is a lot more where that came from.
Now, excuse me while I get back to the Atomic Blonde soundtrack.