Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity
Screenplay by Kurt Johnstad, based on the Oni Press graphic novel series "The Coldest City" written by and Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart
Directed by David Leitch
Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Roland Møller, Sofia Boutella, Bill Skarsgård, Sam Hargrave
Grade: Three stars
The real joy of “Atomic Blonde” is watching Charlize Theron beat the crap out of people and look darn good doing it.
Admittedly, that’s the main appeal of about every spy franchise, from the Bond to Jason Bourne to the “Mission Impossible” movies. Just like those movies, there’s also a lot of betrayals, a random hook-up with a hot girl who exists in the plot solely to sleep with the hero/heroine, and plenty of opportunities for Theron to be far more clever than the people she’s up against. Also like all those movies, “Atomic Blonde” is a little bit soulless and completely, utterly glorious.
The story is set in Berlin in November 1989, the month the Wall came down. In the spy world, however, the Cold War is still clinging with both hands, and one of those nasty little lists that will expose spies on both sides has gotten out again. Theron’s Lorraine Broughton, an undercover MI6 agent, has been sent in to recover both the list and the body of a former co-worker. Unsurprisingly, things don’t go well.
Though the movie is a traditional spy flick through and through, the most important element is quite revolutionary – finally, a woman is playing the lead. Theron’s Broughton is just as tough, ruthless and effortlessly cool as any male spy you’ve ever come across, and the genre has desperately needed a character like her for years now. I’m still waiting for my female Bruce Willis, but until then I’m perfectly happy to enjoy watching Theron show Daniel Craig exactly how it’s done.
Her dance training also had an unexpected benefit, dovetailing nicely with David Leitch’s experience as a fight choreographer to create fight scenes that are things of sheer beauty. They’re utterly brutal, a phrase I use with deep love and admiration, and just a bit more realistic than audiences are used to seeing in an action film. They’re the best part of the movie, which is hardly a surprise in the spy genre. The scene in the dead man’s apartment is my favorite – you’ve probably seen clips in the trailer – but there are any number of delightful options.
James McAvoy is at his seedy best, wildly unpredictable at every turn and the closest thing the movie manages to a genuine foil for Theron. Sophia Boutella nails what’s basically a Bond girl role, and John Goodman makes the most of his brief appearance as a representative with the CIA. All the movie’s really missing is a Q.
If you’re a fan of the spy genre, “Atomic Blonde” is a solidly satisfying entry. If you’re a fan of female-driven action movies, this definitely needs to be on your must-see list.