Atomic Blonde is being called the “female James Bond,” but that doesn’t quite sit right with me.
Atomic Blonde stars Oscar winner Charlize Theron in what’s promised by Universal Pictures to be a “breakneck action thriller.” Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, who is considered MI6’s most lethal assassin. Atomic Blonde is based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, which I have not had the pleasure of reading.
The film takes place in 1989, on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Broughton is trying to piece together why an espionage ring assassinated an undercover agent she’s actually been in a relationship with. It turns out there’s a list of agents’ names making the rounds, and with some of them playing multiple sides, the list promises to compromise identities. Lorraine makes friends with Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) to try and take down the foe for not only her agency, but for her own sweet revenge. Also making appearances: John Goodman, Toby Jones (Wayward Pines) and Sofia Boutella. (You might know Boutella as the amazing villianness Gazelle from Kingsman: The Secret Service.)
Highlights? The movie’s soundtrack is amazing. I mean, come on — it opens with one of the most engaging uses of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday.’ The film’s playlist is absolutely out of the eighties (for me, in a good way), along with some inspired present day covers, including one of 99 Luftballons by Kaleida that made my skin crawl. The tunes are also a fantastic conduit in some of the fight scenes, transporting us from one moment to another through the use of song.
There is no doubt Charlize Theron knows how to take someone down. You can tell she’s been training hard for this film; that the action sequences are important to her. While her dialogue and some of her acting isn’t up to snuff (sometimes the ‘I-don’t-give-a-hoot-about-you’ spy attitude comes across as a little limp) she delivers like nobody’s business when she needs to shoot, stab, punch and kick her way out of a problem. Sometimes she’ll even use her environment — and use it well — even if that means putting a corkscrew to a neck, or keys into a face.
As for the low points, I alluded to this earlier, but Theron gets a little flat once in a while. Some of the scenes become a bit disjointed when you’re going from point A to point B, and some of her dialogue is a little ‘meh,’ but if you’re big on action, this won’t bother you. If you’re wading through this movie fishing for smart dialogue, then you won’t find too much of that here.
No surprise, but it also borrows from a lot of other action films: sure, there are shades of James Bond and Jason Bourne present and accounted for — hell, I’d argue a little bit of Ethan Hunt, and John Wick too (sidebar: that’s because Atomic Blonde director David Leitch also worked on John Wick) — but Theron brings her own sass and spirit, making herself within and without the spies of yesteryear. A few years ago we had the film Salt starring Angelina Jolie (which was boring), and I’d feared going into Atomic Blonde Theron’s character would fall into the same traps Evelyn Salt did: take too heavily from Bourne and Bond, and your spy becomes very been there, done that. Fortunately Theron’s character had enough of her own personality and trademarks to make her fairly memorable, but I wouldn’t go as far as calling her ‘legendary.’
Thankfully there’s enough flash, bang and pow for your buck in Atomic Blonde to be entertained in the action column. Is this the kind of spy movie that offers call backs to stuff like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or Bridge of Spies? The answer is most certainly no, but this is the kind of film I’d compare to comfort food: you know it’s not the healthiest for you, but you’re probably at some point going to want to go back for more. As Universal billed it, it is a “breakneck action thriller,” with a little less spying in the equation.
As for a rating, I’ve been hovering between a four and a four-and-a-half out of five (some of the extra marks goes to my infatuation with the graphics department and their spray painted opening credits), but for now, I’ll stick with a solid four. See it if you’re into action films, if you like Charlize Theron, and especially if you love 80’s music. You won’t regret it.
Atomic Blonde is out in early showings Thursday, July 27th, and goes wide Friday, July 28th.