Happy birthday, Charlize Theron! I got you this review!
I am, generally speaking, a fan of female-led action movies. Admittedly I should probably watch more of them, but I’m a fan in theory, if nothing else. My love for Angelina Jolie has been well-documented, and I’ve enjoyed seeing more and more women show up in the MCU. While we’ve finally gotten our Wonder Woman, we’re still waiting on that Black Widow stand-alone, and there still haven’t been any particularly good action franchises starring a woman. There were high hopes for various Jolie vehicles, but beyond that, women still aren’t kicking ass at the same level as the guys. But, as a surprise to no-one, I’m sure, Charlize Theron is a great addition to the world of women who kick ass.
Lorraine Broughton is an MI6 operative in the midst of the Cold War 80s. She’s sent to Berlin (on the verge of bringing down the Wall) to retrieve the body of another agent and to finish his mission, which was to retrieve a list of all known operatives on all sides. In addition, she is tasked with discovering the identity of Satchel, a double-agent who is also working for the Russians. Her primary contact in Berlin is David Percival (James Mcavoy), an agent who has perhaps gone a bit too far in embedding himself into the culture of the Berlin underground. Naturally, everyone is after this list as well as a Stasi agent named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) who claims to have fully memorized its contents. Broughton must contend not only with numerous KGB operatives, but also with a French agent (Sofia Boutella) who may or may not be trustworthy. It’s a maze of loyalties and agendas that she must navigate in order to complete her mission and stay alive.
Atomic Blonde is fast and fun. It’s a little sloppy on the details, but those aren’t terribly important when you compare them to a killer 80s soundtrack and intensely stylish set design and cinematography. The movie is based on a graphic novel entitled The Coldest City, and the look and feel truly calls that to mind. While not totally shot in black and white, much of the scenes seem devoid of color except for a pop here and there. Lorraine herself wears an almost entirely black and white wardrobe, and most of the other characters appear in muted colors. The result is something beautiful, sleek, cold. The chill of the Cold War is almost an extra character, enhanced by the lack of warmth from the characters themselves, not to mention Lorraine’s predilection for ice baths and vodka on the rocks.
In addition to the visuals, the film features great performances from Theron and McAvoy. I feel a little ashamed to admit that, despite it being Theron’s movie, McAvoy is actually the standout. He is having a GRAND time as the feral and ambiguous Percival. In contrast, Theron is a little too one-note. While trying to be the standard poker-faced spy, she comes across as being unengaged, and her slipshod accent (which may be purposeful) doesn’t help matters any. Fortunately, she’s fantastic to watch, and the action alone make it all worthwhile. One of the things I particularly appreciated about her fight scenes is that they are not the typical, street/martial arts-style sequences we’re used to. They are brutal. Anything close to hand is used as a deadly weapon (stiletto heel, skateboard, keys, garden hose?). People get their faces beaten into a bloody pulp. Lorraine herself seldom escapes without a scratch – in fact there are more scenes in which opponents are visibly exhausted and barely able to stand, let alone fight, than I think I’ve ever seen before. It’s a welcome (if violent) dose of realism in a genre that often seeks to give its heroes superhuman status.
It’s hard to say too much about the movie without giving away all the twists and turns. I’ve come to realize that I often prefer movies or shows where it is more difficult for me to guess what is going to happen next. In the case of Atomic Blonde, I definitely had a bit of trouble following who was on which side and what was being accomplished as opposed to what had gone wrong. Still, I would say that the audience is ultimately satisfied (if slightly confused) and while we may not root for Lorraine, strictly speaking, we at least have a healthy respect for her methods and abilities. It would be interesting to see how the character of Lorraine Broughton might return to the screen (and actually, according to IMDb a sequel is in development!) and hey: If Tom Cruise is still doing his own stunts well into his fifties, I say we give Theron a shot.