One of the most anticipated films of the summer is the thriller “Atomic Blonde” starring Charlize Theron as a British spy operating just as the Berlin Wall is about to collapse as the ‘80s wound to a close.
While the movie hasn’t been a major blockbuster, it has performed respectfully and reviews have been mostly favorable. One of its most notable aspects is the deft use of some terrific music from the ‘80s which sets the right vibe for the bygone era in which it is set. Summer movies have traditionally been fertile ground for classic soundtracks, with some even outlasting the movie to which it belongs in pop culture awareness.
That might not be the case with “Atomic Blonde,” but director David Leitch’s song selections make for an awesome nostalgia ride that will delight fans of ‘80s music and will hopefully introduce new audiences to some truly classic tunes.
David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” makes yet another high-profile appearance in film, a testament to the song’s gripping cinematic power. It was originally written and recorded for the 1982 film “Cat People” directed by Paul Schrader, and Quentin Tarantino dusted it off for a key sequence in his 2009 wartime thriller “Inglourious Basterds.” It opens the compilation with a brooding intensity that sets the mood.
German artist Peter Schilling’s synth-rock staple “Major Tom” follows, a clever transition from the man who originated the character in “Space Oddity” to the tense and jittery homage that became a surprise hit (Schilling’s only Top 40 appearance in the U.S.) in 1983.
One of the coolest things about the “Atomic Blonde” soundtrack is that Leitch doesn’t just go with obvious choices. There are a few major hits, like George Michael’s sensual chart-topper “Father Figure,” A Flock of Seagulls’ new wave essential “I Ran (So Far Away),” and Til Tuesday’s mournful tale of an oppressive relationship, “Voices Carry,” but there are also lesser-known tracks. Siouxsie and the Banshees’ dramatic “Cities in Dust” is a superb addition, as is Re-Flex’s “The Politics of Dancing,” an edgy electro-rocker that wasn’t a giant hit upon its release in 1984 but still pulses with club-ready energy.
Given that the film is largely set in Germany, Leitch chooses several tracks that harken back to that country’s proud pop music history. Nena’s anti-war fable “99 Luftballons,” set at the Berlin Wall, is always wonderful to hear (as is the new recording by Kaleida, also featured on the soundtrack).
“Der Kommissar,” a song originally released in German by Falco in 1981, is featured as covered by After the Fire, who scored a major U.S. hit with their 1983 English-language version. Several new covers are thrown into the mix, including a searing take on New Order’s “Blue Monday” by HEALTH, and Marilyn Manson’s collaboration with original score composer Tyler Bates on a manic version of Ministry’s industrial epic “Stigmata.”
Movie soundtracks, with few exceptions (“Guardians of the Galaxy,” for instance) no longer enjoy the same massive cultural cachet as in decades past, but there are still great ones to be found thanks to directors who know how to incorporate outstanding music into their films in meaningful ways. “Baby Driver” is arguably the best of the summer so far, but “Atomic Blonde” is right up there with it.