Atomic Blonde (R) ★★★

Charlize Theron stars in “Atomic Blonde.” Photo credit: Universal Pictures.

Atomic Blonde Provides Explosive Action This Summer

Charlize Theron, may be an Oscar-winning actress, but she might be better known as an action star with her recent performances in The Fate of the Furious and Mad Max: Fury Road.  What makes this career path even more remarkable is that in 2005, while filming a sci-fi action film, Theron was nearly paralyzed after landing on her neck performing a stunt. After enduring excruciating pain for years, she eventually opted for a risky medical procedure to alleviate the pain and the rest was history. Clearly, Charlize Theron is one of the toughest actresses working today, which is on full display in her latest film, Atomic Blonde, where she takes her gifts to another level playing a Cold War spy around fall of the Berlin Wall.

The film opens with a man running through the alleys of Berlin while 80s songs play in the background. After seemingly getting away from whatever chases him, the man is hit by a car and then shot and killed by the driver who turns out to be a Russian spy. We soon cut to Theron’s character, Lorraine Broughton, immersing herself in a bathtub full of ice with bruises and cuts all over her body while drinking cold vodka to numb the pain. Lorraine is then summoned to her headquarters where she is interviewed by both British (Toby Jones, Anthropoid, 2016) and American (John Goodman, Kong: Skull Island, 2017) intelligence officers about what happened in Berlin. Lorraine, who is annoyed at the distrust in the room, begins her side of the story. 

The film shifts roughly two weeks prior when Lorraine, who is an M-6 agent was summoned to receive a new assignment. She is told that a fellow agent in Berlin was recently killed (the man in the opening scene) and it is believed he had a file with the secret identities of the British spy network around the world. They believe the Russians have the files and are looking to sell them, which would put their agency in immediate danger. Lorraine is instructed to go to Berlin and connect with another spy named Percival (James McAvoy, Split, 2016), who is in charge of local operations there and will help her find the list. Lorraine arrives in Berlin in disguise but is immediately followed by a number of parties from the airport. There is even an attempt to apprehend her on the car ride home. She fends off the attackers and escapes before meeting with Percival who is also tailing her. Percival does not dress like a spy as he looks more like a young Berlin protester and seems to be running a black market operation on the Communist side of the Berlin Wall. Lorraine is distrustful of Percival as she asks why so many people knew she was coming.  They manage to settle their differences for the time being and begin to work on developing plans to find the list. However, nothing seems to go to plan. Lorraine must fight off numerous threats and will need to draw on all of her talents to survive this mission.

Atomic Blonde is a very entertaining summer flick and has spectacular action sequences.  In fact, there is one fight scene in particular that will leave audiences blown away by the choreography and filing techniques. The film was directed by David Leitch who is no stranger to action films as a former stunt double and who recently directed the popular John Wick films.  The story itself feels like something you would see with the Jason Bourne or James Bond series with fighting sequences that resemble Kill Bill.

What separates this movie from other action / spy films is the visual style employed. The movie is set in the late 1980s and draws heavily on the clothes and designs of the time including lots of neon lights and haircuts from the era. The soundtrack is loaded with new wave music, which feels very appropriate for the film and is easily one of the best parts of the movie. As far as the acting, Theron and McAvoy are great as the leads. While they have decent chemistry in their scenes together, this is clearly Theron’s movie as she dominates with her performance playing the sexy but deadly spy.

Atomic Blonde is not without its weak points though. The plot is needlessly confusing and at the same time telegraphs some of the bigger surprises to the audience. In this film, it is best to ignore the story details and enjoy the ride. Also, while Theron is great in her action sequences, the movie has too many scenes with her either smoking or drinking alone, exuding her hardened persona. Although they help set the tone at the outset of the film, we don’t need more of these scenes after her first action sequence as her character’s MO is very clear. Still, for those wanting action, but tired of super hero movies, this movie is an ideal choice.

Bottom Line: Atomic Blonde is an explosive summer movie that is worth renting.

Credits: Written by Kurt Johnstad; Directed by David Leitch

Cast: Charlize Theron (Lorraine Broughton), James McAvoy (David Percival), John Goodman (Emmett Kurzfeld), Til Schweiger (the Watchmaker), Eddie Marsan (The Spyglass), Sofia Boutella (Delphine Lasalle), Toby Jones Barnard (Eric Gray), Bill Skarsgard (Merkel), and Sam Hargrave (James Gascoigne)

Studio: Focus Features

Running Time: 115 minutes

Jessica DeLong © July 31, 2017