You’ve seen Atomic Blonde before, you’ve just never seen it like this.
Now undeniably one of the world’s biggest action stars, Charlize Theron has teamed up with David Leitch, one half of the uncredited Directing duo behind John Wick, to bring us a stylistically similar extravaganza we can only hope, in the age of ‘cinematic universes,’ shares the same earth as Keanu Reeves’ titular assassin.
Commanding her role throughout as MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, sent to East Berlin to uncover a mole in the dying days of the Cold War, the tropes here run to no end. There’s the fancy watches that tell just that bit more than the time, a microfilm, a femme fatale (well-cast rising star Sofia Boutella), shady double-dealings, a dark room with slowly developing prints, anachronistic tape recorders capturing every word, a list that just can’t fall into the wrong hands and a Government figure of undisclosed seniority ominously warning our heroine to “trust no one.”
There isn’t much if anything that’s new in Theron’s latest – yet Atomic Blonde’s stars and dogged determination to pull off its exhilarating sequences, together with the less than common casting of a female lead in this type of role leading to a roundly unconventional dynamic fairly setting it apart from the rest. Relying in no small measure on the impact of it’s action, Atomic Blonde is replete with the passing thrill of finite sequences undistinctive but for their display of Theron’s formidable hand-to-hand combat skills.
Whether taking on a cavalcade of baddies in a cinema or an apartment complex with defensive manoeuvres for the keen-eyed viewer not at all dissimilar to much of those deployed by Reeves in his own action-vehicle, Theron’s presence and ability is redoubtable. This leading to her dispatching of baddies with relative ease if to thrilling effect, there is barely one exception that appears to challenge her physically, as there was in John Wick a single lone figure who could seemingly seek to come close to matching the hero’s particular set of skills, the same actor who parried with Reeves notably performing this same function in Atomic Blonde.
With a car crash and multistorey jump ensuing here and there, there is one vastly expansive action sequence that unfolds out to astounding impact, as has been the trend ever since Birdman, in an apparent single take. With full credit going to the performers and creative team for the stunt, among them Eddie Marsan who is joined by Toby Jones, John Goodman and others in a series of one note if not unmemorable performances, above all Leitch executes the array with seeming homage to the methods used by Hitchcock to achieve the very same effect when he immortalized the technique in Rope decades ago.
The heavily convoluted plot involving a key MI6 contact in East Berlin (James McAvoy, having no end of fun) is largely serviceable though resolutely secondary to the carnage recurring from almost any move undertaken by Broughton and her counterparts. The appeal and tension inherent in the setting, potentially chosen for the singular aim of deploying any number of exceptional 80’s numbers (neglecting to play Blondie’s ‘Atomic’ in this respect being an unfortunate oversight), is regretfully undermined in part by not infrequent jumps to wholly unnecessary post-action narration within the confines of an interrogation featuring characters who have evidently survived events yet to transpire on screen.
The pairing of Theron and Boutella and above all the casting of Theron in the main role proffering an interplay and palpable dynamic throughout barely evidenced in like fare, the dauntless performances together with the exceptional stunt-work and action, regardless of its few shortcomings, render Atomic Blonde a deserved hit.
Atomic Blonde is in cinemas now