Atomic Blonde, based Antony Johnston’s 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, plays out like a brutal, too cool, neon-coated music video, with Academy Award-winner Charlize Theron stepping up as a true contender for our next James Bond (one can only hope). The actress certainly presents her case under the helm of director David Leitch (John Wick, Deadpool 2) as ice-cold and effortlessly stylish M16 agent Lorraine Broughton.
It’s no secret that Theron’s versatility in action films reigns supreme – think Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road – and with this spy thriller Theron commands attention in every frame and goes all in for another rush of pure adrenaline. Theron’s character Lorraine is dressed to kill, armed with probably the most lethal heels seen on film, and her targets are unmissed.
There’s a lot to unpack with our heroine when we first meet her emerging from an ice bath, body completely covered in bruises, pouring herself a glass of vodka, all the way through to the film’s climax, and there are twists aplenty on the way. Told through flashbacks, there is no shortage of thrills in Lorraine’s story – albeit, the narrative often gets lost in all its complexities.
Set in the final days of the Berlin Wall/Cold War in 1989, the plot finds Lorraine tasked with a crucial mission to recover highly classified intel. Thrown into the mix is Lorraine’s assigned field partner David Percival (James McAvoy), an agent who has seemingly gone ‘off-the-grid.’ The dynamic between Lorraine and David offers quite the tailspin, and with a mysterious double-agent by the moniker Satchel presenting our central mystery in Atomic Blonde, this plotline brings forth a deadly cat and mouse game where nobody is to be trusted; Satchel could be anyone. Along her mission, Lorraine encounters a French operative played by Sofia Boutella (The Mummy, Kingsman: The Secret Service). The character provides an element of romance to Atomic Blonde, but even this is fleeting amidst the very sharp plot turns of the film. Somewhere under its many pursuits and secrets of espionage, this film might’ve offered a less convoluted story.
With its unique fusion of stylised action and mystery, Atomic Blonde is a treat for fans of genre filmmaking. The film boasts a fiery soundtrack with hits by musical icons George Michael, David Bowie, and The Clash, among many others. Leitch’s vision of hyper-stylistic choreographed fight sequences work seamlessly with its backdrop tunes – much like Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. Who could’ve guessed Theron kicking butt to George Michael’s “Father Figure” would work so brilliantly?
While Atomic Blonde isn’t perfect, it is a non-stop entertaining thrill ride. The film is anchored by Theron’s fully-committed performance, which finds the actress executing most of the film’s choreographed action herself thanks to the intense training she undertook. One particular sequence, for example, presents a jaw dropping and impressive eight-minute, long-shot fight scene with our heroine exchanging blows mercilessly on a staircase; it’s unlike anything this writer has ever seen before.
The film serves yet another testament to Theron as one of our greatest actresses today, and with one Atomic Blonde entry down, it wouldn’t hurt to see Theron back in action as Lorraine Broughton if a sequel is indeed greenlit.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10