Charlize Theron is undoubtedly the best action actress working today and Atomic Blonde, adapted from the comic book “The Coldest City”, does nothing but cement that status. Directed by David Leitch, one of the creators of John Wick, Atomic Blonde isn’t so much a female Wick as it is a hybrid of Salt and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It has some great action set pieces, but a largely boilerplate espionage script that’s elevated by the talent of Theron and co-star James McAvoy.
Atomic Blonde is set in the closing days of the Cold War in Berlin during the ten days surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s certainly an interesting time and place to set the film, and if the film does nothing else, it oozes the 1980s. From the pounding soundtrack, to the Reagan “tear down this wall” speech, to the clothes, neon everywhere, football-sized car phones, and analog tech, you are firmly in 1989…when you’re following Lorraine Broughton (Theron) through her 10 days of hell in Berlin. The story structure, though, is a debrief after the fact, and we flash between Broughton briefing MI-6 and the CIA and the events in question.
Broughton is sent to Berlin after the murder of a British operative and to liaise with David Percival (James McAvoy) in rooting out a double-agent who may be responsible for the death. The plot is overly convoluted without ever really being very interesting. Broughton isn’t so much an investigator as she is a walking human weapon of mass destruction. The story tries to be overly clever with itself while it’s really only setting Theron into situation after situation where she gets the snot knocked out of her and stacks bodies like cord-wood in her wake. I mean for Pete’s sake look at how she looks at the end of her stay in lovely Berlin:
That’s AFTER she had a bath (there was more blood prior). There are some brutal fight scenes in this, and that’s not a criticism because when there’s actually action, that’s when the movie is at its most entertaining. There’s a fight down an apartment stairwell that’s one of the most impressively choreographed action set pieces I’ve seen in quite awhile. Theron sells the action better than any other actress, and you really believe she can hand out and take the beatings she doles out in Atomic Blonde. It’s just a shame that the infrastructure of the plot couldn’t do justice to those set pieces or the setting of the film. It’s solid rental, and a feather in Theron’s cap as an action star, but I don’t think you’ll see Atomic Blonde Chapter Two.