Atomic Blonde is a neon-drenched dream, and stylish enough to make up for the pointlessly complicated, dream-logic driven plot.
Adapted from Sam Hart and Antony Johnston's graphic novel The Coldest City, this film isn’t your classic Soviet-era, noir-ish spy thriller. Instead of trench coats, we have fishnets. Instead of a monosyllabic male lead lurking in the shadows, we have Charlize Theron smashing bottles over the heads of baddies.
Set in the days before the collapse of the Wall between East and West, one of M16’s best, Lorraine Broughton (Theron), is dispatched to Berlin to find a list. On this list is the name of every secret agent working in Berlin, as well as the true identity of Satchel: a British spy who has double-crossed the Crown, and is now working with the Stasi.
On the ground, Lorraine isn’t the only spy in the game. She is told to cooperate with a fellow Brit, the Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy), but ordered not to trust him. In a city of spies, trusting anyone at all can get you killed – David Percival more than most.
He’s ostensibly still working for jolly ol’ England, but his first loyalty lies to the city of Berlin and its seedy underbelly. Broughton and Percival are evenly matched forces – think Lawful Good against Chaotic Good – who like to quote Machiavelli at each other. It is double pleasure to deceive the deceiver.
This film is exactly what you would expect from director David Leitch. Leitch’s John Wick was a ‘one man against the world’ affair, with bleak scenes backlit by neon, or throbbing under strobe lights.
Atomic Blonde is similarly ‘one woman against the world, single-handedly taking on any number of dudes you can’t wait to see her own.' The bleakness of East Berlin is contrasted with the opulence of the Western side of the city, and night scenes are bathed in neon lights; pinks, blues, purples and greens. It’s a pulsing thriller, with a soundtrack to rival that of Baby Driver.
Indeed, much like Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, the action of the film is impeccably timed to the beats and crescendos of the music – but this alone wouldn’t make the movie a success, unless the action was up to scratch. Atomic Blonde’s action is so ‘up to scratch’ it draws blood – with Charlize Theron believably bare-knuckle brawling her way through every fight sequence.
A highlight takes place in a hallway and stairwell, which audiences should prepare their fist-pump hand for. If there’s one thing Marvel’s Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones have taught us (sorry, Iron Fist) it’s to appreciate a good hallway fight sequence.
In this film alone Theron proves herself to be the best action movie star in Hollywood wilderness. Tom Cruise ain’t got nothing on her, and if Theron doesn’t end up dominating the genre the way Bruce Willis did in his heyday, it won’t be because female action heroes aren’t believable.
Indeed, it’s rare to walk out of an action film and say, “Gee, I wish that movie had fewer plot points,” but for Atomic Blonde it’s true, and that is thanks to Theron’s steeliness and style.
Her atomic turn in this film continues the rise and rise of the female action hero (and it should be mentioned that it also stars the sharp, scissor-kicking Sofia Boutella from Kingsman: The Secret Service).
Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor feel like a lifetime ago, and Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson can’t fulfil all our female action hero needs. But now there’s Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Daisy Ridley’s Rey, and Theron’s Furiosa and Broughton. There’s fresh blood on the scene, and it’s pumping.
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