Atomic Blonde was a film that had been on my radar for a long, long time, mostly because the trailer contained amazing music and an amazing looking Charlize Theron doing some amazing beating up of sorry fools. Some posters carried tag lines spouting phrases along the lines of “we finally have a female James Bond”, but in all honesty, I went in hoping to enjoy something a little edgier and more well thought out than the majority of offerings in the 007 series.
And overall, though the intricacies of the twisting plot might suffer some of the same classic James Bond flaws, it matters very little because Atomic Blonde is one of the coolest, most kick-ass movies you will see this year, or perhaps this decade. The film, based on a 2012 graphic novel, tells the story of Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a top level MI6 agent who is deployed to Berlin on the cusp of the falling of the Wall to recover a sensitive list and assassinate a double agent. As I referred to, the narrative takes its fair share of twists and turns, some proving to be more effective than others, and I won’t deny that I had to make sure I had the details down on Wikipedia upon arriving home, but what it sacrificed in complete clarity of plot is a whirlwind experience of effortless cool, beautiful, stylish aesthetic and absolutely incredible action. And when I say incredible action, I’m not talking fifty foot fire explosions, I’m talking the likes of a seven minute single tracking shot featuring Lorraine descend a stairwell whilst dispatching upwards of six burly men. If that’s the kind of intricate, expertly executed, ambitious action you are looking for, then you have come to the right place.
Alongside this handful of insane action set pieces, Atomic Blonde as an aesthetic work is designed with the precision and ice fresh cool that history has come to associate with the underground cultural movement of 1980s Berlin. Any random frame from the film would not be out of place on the wall of a modern art gallery, with the cinematography acting as something of a love letter to the neon yet gritty feel of the period. The soundtrack, filled with 80s classics and a fun assortment of contemporary covers is one of the best compiled story elements of its kind I have experienced in recent times, easily beating the likes of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 and Baby Driver.
Atomic Blonde provides pleasure on many different levels. Visual pleasure, musical pleasure, action pleasure and the satisfying kind of pleasure a film lover gets when they just know that they are watching something incredibly, effortlessly cool. The third act plots reveals might be a touch too contrived for my personal taste, but absolutely everything leading up those points is more than impressive enough for me to forgive a few classic tropes of the spy genre. From a female perspective, you’ll find yourself leaving with a similar sense to when you walked out of Wonder Woman, the sense that you can do anything and defeat anyone, and God help the slow pavement walkers who obstruct your swagger on your way home.
As protagonist Lorraine Broughton, Charlize Theron is perfect. Theron’s angular coldness, from the cut of her hair to the tailoring of her outfits, to the handfuls of ice that she uses to wash down tumblers of straight vodka, shorthands for the audience more about her character than one hundred pages of explanatory dialogue ever could. With perhaps equal parts stunt work to lines throughout the film, Theron’s physicality is a central focus from the get go, and an actress without the same level of confidence and assurance would not have been able to carry the film as she does. There is a slight feeling of detached ‘otherness’ about Theron’s performance, one that does not truly reveal all of its benefits until the final plot dice have been rolled, and I truly can’t think of anyone I would rather see in the part.
The most prominent of the supporting roles is played by James McAvoy as David Percival, a fellow MI6 agent based in Berlin who has seemingly succumbed to the eccentric, somewhat lawless environment that his undercover position within the city has created. Next to the utter cool and calm of Theron’s Broughton, McAvoy’s Percival seems almost comically extravagant, but on reflection the picture arguably needs a counterbalancing presence to keep the audience on their toes. Further supporting roles are given by the likes of John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones and Eddie Marsan, all stellar performers who help to add to the air of quality that the film exudes.
Overall, Atomic Blonde is an absolute treat, a Cold War spy film unlike any other that I have seen. This year we have been blessed with several ‘cool’ movies, from Baby Driver to Free Fire to Miss Sloane, but even with it’s slight plot quibbles, Atomic Blonde might just be the coolest of the lot. Between this and Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron has proven herself to be a top tier action heroine, and even if you aren’t excited by the spy film genre, her ball-busting performance is worth the price of admission alone.