Adapted from Antony Johnston’s graphic novel The Coldest City and directed by David Leitch, stuntman and co-director of John Wick, Atomic Blonde does little to hide its director’s action-oriented priorities and remains true to its comic book heritage.
The film opens with MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) being debriefed by her MI6 superior (Toby Jones) and CIA chief (John Goodman) about her recent mission in Berlin in the days surrounding the fall of the Berlin wall. She’s looking quite the worse for wear and we discover why as Broughton recounts those brutal days in flashback.
Lorraine’s task in East Berlin is to make contact with David Percival (James McAvoy), a former Berlin bureau chief who’s recently “gone feral”. She is then to find a copy of “the list”, a record of the names of all the Western agents operating in Soviet territory, including a double agent known as Satchel.
Her task becomes complicated by the fact that the only surviving version of this list exists in the memory of the Stasi agent “Spyglass” (Eddie Marsan). Working in collaboration with the debauched and possibly duplicitous Agent Percival, Broughton must find a way to smuggle Spyglass and his family out of East Berlin.
In terms of plot, that pretty much summarises the entire film but for a couple of very late twists that save the storyline from almost laughable thinness.
Atomic Blonde is designed for fans of action films. In terms of style and technique, the action sequences reveal Leitch to be a virtuoso of the action-thriller. While this reviewer is all for women taking centre-stage in this genre, I must admit that the pleasure of seeing a woman dish out brutal beatings to a never-ending series of men is not entirely satisfying when there is so little backstory or emotion behind the combat.
Theron is incredibly accomplished as an action protagonist, as her work in Æon Flux and Mad Max: Fury Road attests. She does not disappoint. The action sequences are brilliantly choreographed and executed.
Towards the end of the film there is an action scene which lasts at least five minutes and doesn’t seem to contain a single obvious cut. To add to the impressiveness, the fights possess more realism than is standard for this genre, with characters taking serious hits and wearing the obvious injuries in subsequent scenes.
Despite its shortcomings in plot and character depth, Atomic Blonde has style to burn. The’ 80s pop soundtrack is brilliant and cinematographer Jonathan Sela does excellent work conjuring a believable yet hip fall-of-the-wall Germany.
At its heart, Atomic Blonde is pure action blockbuster, so if you enjoy jaw-dropping action scenes and hyper-cool design, all set to a great soundtrack, then you’ll love it. If you want to see a great female lead in a spy thriller that has an intricate plot and emotional depth, perhaps seek out ’90s classics like Nikita or The Long Kiss Goodnight.