Cold War espionage thriller meets 80s new wave dance party in Atomic Blonde. Adapted from the graphic novel The Coldest City, the film is a violent and ultra-stylized journey into convolution. Stuntman turned director David Leitch (John Wick) has a good eye for his lead actress and bone-crunching fight scenes. The missing part of the equation was turning all of that flash into a more coherent plot. Atomic Blonde gets lost in its bombastic approach, but certainly had my feet tapping to the retro soundtrack.
A platinum coiffed Charlize Theron stars as MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton. On the eve of the Berlin Wall collapse in 1989, she’s sent into West Germany on a critical mission. One of their agents has been murdered. A list of deep cover operatives has been stolen from him. Broughton must recover the list before it gets out into the open. She’s assigned to work with David Percival (James McAvoy), the maverick chief of Berlin station. Broughton stirs up a hornet’s nest of intrigue and duplicity. Every side fights for their own agenda as communism comes crashing down around them.
Atomic Blonde is the ultimate fix for the Charlize Theron addict. The stunning actress is front and center throughout. Broughton is a femme fatal with deadly fighting skills. She doles out punishment with ruthless efficiency, but also pays the price for her ass-kicking ways. Theron is bloodied and bruised as much as she is sleek and sexy. She chugs Stoli on the rocks, no shaken martinis here. What she does share with Bond is his love for beautiful women. Broughton has a lesbian sex scene that will melt the butter on your popcorn. This character is the physical opposite of Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, but just as lethal.
Atomic Blonde gets muddled by its labyrinthine plot. There’s enough double crossing here to make your head spin. The mystery elements are not well handled. I think that David Leitch spent too much time on style points. He certainly captures an energetic look and feel, but the actual story gets lost in the weeds. It becomes secondary to the spectacle. Now that would work if the spectacle didn’t depend on an intricate story, but it does. Atomic Blonde is aiming for a certain level of complexity. It just never finds the balance between spy thriller and action film.
The soundtrack is critical to the film’s ambience. Atomic Blonde plays like a two hour music video of eighties new wave and industrial hits. There are pop classics like “99 Luftballons” and “Der Kommissar” mixed in with Depeche Mode’s “Little Fifteen” and Ministry’s “Burning Inside”. Broughton could open a pretty smashing dance club if the spy thing doesn’t work out for her. That’s a bit cheeky, but the music is a huge part of the film. It keeps the beat, literally, while the film bumbles around with the convoluted plot.
From Focus Features, Atomic Blonde is loaded with eye and ear candy. Charlize Theron sells the sexy secret agent with ease. She kicks ass and looks fabulous doing it. I think most audiences will go for the pounding eighties music. Atomic Blonde doesn’t quite work as a spy film, but the dazzling elements are more than enough entertainment value.