Atomic Blonde is set in November 1989 just as the Berlin Wall is about to come down; a top secret piece of information named The List is stolen by a KGB agent which threatens to jeopardise the intelligence agencies of the West. As such British secret agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent in to find The List and take down double agent Satchel who gives information to the Soviets about the espionage done by Britain and America. Forming an uneasy alliance with the almost insane Berlin based agent David Percival (James McAvoy) Lorraine gets dragged into a twisted and violent series of events in an attempt to prevent the Cold War from carrying on.
Like with John Wick the element that stands out the most in Atomic Blonde is the action, which is absolutely brilliant all the way through. As with John Wick there’s little reliance on shaky cam and rapid fire editing, meaning the action has such a brilliant flow to it that gives it its enjoyable edge. The best scene is easily the stairway fight which takes place over seemingly one take as the camera never cuts with Theron showing off her moves effectively whilst also getting beaten and bloodied all the way through (indeed, the first scene of the movie shows her naked and scarred, foreshadowing the carnage that’s about to go down). This is heightened by the aesthetic quality of the movie which makes the whole film very stylish in how it portrays the 1980s with its gorgeous fashion and splendid music, even if it is marred by the violence that’s going down all around in the last days of East Berlin. A standout of the aesthetic quality of the film is the interrogation scenes between Lorraine, her boss at MI6 (Toby Jones) and a CIA agent (John Goodman) which turns up the black and grey to make the environment grim and foreboding. The music as previously mentioned is great; when your film features Blue Monday by New Order and Cat People (Putting Out Fire) by David Bowie in the first five minutes or so it’s going to be a good one. Notable is the use of soundtrack dissonance that frequently occurs as big action scenes take place of light pop music; a car chase is scored to I Ran (So Far Away) by Flock of Seagulls and Lorraine taking out baddies in an apartment with clues to solve the mystery is made even more epic by the presence of Father Figure by George Michael.
Storywise this is more Jane Bond than Jane Wick; the film is far more plot heavy and reliant on intrigue and mystery than John Wick which relied on action to propel the movie forwards. The story is the weakest part of the film, relying too much on twists and turns and having an issue with its ending, which goes on for too long and throws in a couple more gratuitous twists for good measure. After the stairway fight and car chase the wind does come out of the sails of the movie a bit, but there’s still a good number of strong action scenes left in the film. Overall, the plot’s not amazing but it’s decent. The acting and characters meanwhile are solid. Theron gives a performance that’s akin to Keanu Reeves in John Wick which like that film suits the grim and action packed tone of the film. She demonstrates an aura of toughness and being in control, never relenting from being seriously badass. McAvoy meanwhile is more of a wild card, hamming it up a bit in his role as the unreliable Percival and being very enjoyable to watch in every scene that he pops up in. Toby Jones and John Goodman are good in their supporting roles whilst Sofia Boutella shines as inexperienced French operative LaSalle who shakily starts following Lorraine and eventually initiates a relationship; it’s a far cry from her more action packed roles in Kingsman and Star Trek Beyond as she captures the vulnerability of a woman not yet ready for the dark line of work of espionage. The downside of the film’s characters however is that the ostensible main villain Bremovych (Roland Møller) is a real non-presence and therefore lacks the strong villainous presence that his character should have, making the film somewhat aimless at times (until one primary character reveals a more antagonistic side).
Atomic Blonde is an explosive bit of fun and proof that Leitch is a real asset to the world of action directing. The action scenes are all consistently excellent giving an old school feel to the film and keeping the audience on the edge of their seats constantly from all the carnage. However whilst the film is frequently bloody and messy it’s also very glamourous and makes the 80s look awesome, with fantastic costumes and music. The story is good if not spectacular and the actors for the most part all do solid work, which leads to Atomic Blonde being a real fun ride of a movie; I’d be pretty cool with seeing Lorraine Broughton on the screen again sometime soon…