Atomic Blonde Movie Review
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For days leading up to the SXSW premiere of Atomic Blonde on March 12, media outlets were calling Charlize Theron the “female John Wick”. No doubt, Theron is an ass kicker, and she did in fact train with Keanu, but she’s no John Wick. She’s better. Like she did with Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron is writing her own ticket into the genre’s greatest heroes of all-time discussion.
The film opens to an embattled woman (Theron) tending to her wounds, she dips into a bath of ice water to fight the swelling. She’s clearly seen hell, but it’s an opening setup we as an audience have seen many times before. As is director David Leitch’s (John Wick, Fight Club) adoption of the often-abused “agent debriefing session” for navigating through the story’s timeline, and the mysterious man behind the mirrored-glass bit. To say Atomic Blonde is full of Hollywood cliches is not overstated, but luckily, they work.
Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is an agent of her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Agency. She’s like 007 without the gadgets, and she prefers straight vodka over shaken martinis. She’s a badass and Charlize, who accidentally broke two teeth for this role, is totally in her element.
She’s been ordered to debrief her recent mission in Berlin, which by the sound of the frustration in her voice and the condition of her body, didn’t quite go as planned. She’s apprehensive to deliver the assessment because of an American CIA agent (John Goodman) sitting in on the conversation. She doesn’t mince words, they apparently have history. She reveals the mission was compromised the minute she stepped foot on foreign soil.
It’s 1989, near the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Broughton’s mission is to assist David Percival (James McAvoy), a deep cover agent, to recover and smuggle a “NOC” list – a document exposing undercover agents’ real identity – to safer hands. Tally another in the cliche column. McAvoy adopts a 90’s Sinéad O’Connor buzz cut and “I’m too sexy” tank-top to blend-in, he’s hardly trustworthy by the looks of things. Broughton is suspicious, especially since there is a known double-agent on the loose.
The list exists within the photographic memory of a defecting officer. He’ll hand it over if Broughton and Percival can get him to the west side of the wall. Percival suggests using the Berlin Wall demonstrations as cover, Broughton agrees. But things get awry fast. German and Russian bad guys begin descending on the escape and Broughton is forced to fight for survival.
The Cold War atmosphere lends itself perfectly to a story like Atomic Blonde where no one can be trusted and tension is always high. McAvoy makes it his personal playground, lending his grit to the contemptible Percival. He makes half-hearted attempts at the leggy Broughton, but she has her eyes on Sandrine, played by Sofia Boutella (Star Trek: Beyond). Broughton is always one-step ahead of audiences, Sandrine may be two steps ahead. Leitch forces them into damp corridors and neon lighting that offer an unusual, claustrophobic style to the unfolding action.
It’s Theron, ultimately, who creates the excitement bursting from Atomic Blonde. Sure, there’s a lack of character development and the movie is full of Hollywood cliches, but the action feels new, the twists and turns are always surprising, and we’re witnessing a full-on action icon in the making.