Charlize Theron goes on a tear for the ages in Atomic Blonde, placing another pin on her action-hero lapel after her ferocious turn as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.
As Lorraine Broughton—an undercover agent on a mission in Berlin as the wall begins to fall in the late 1980s—she showcases her ability to kick people through walls with the best of them. She also knows how to use a freezer door as a weapon.
Directed by David Leitch, one of the directors of the original John Wick and the future director of Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde pops with the same kind of kinetic energy that Wick did when the bullets and kicks were flying. Also a legendary stuntman, Leitch knows how to make a hit look real, and he choreographs action scenes that stand as some of the year’s best. When Charlize lands a blow in this movie, you feel it.
Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, the film does drag at times, especially when Lorraine does the standard interrogation-room scenes, with Toby Jones and John Goodman drilling her for answers. Atomic Blonde could’ve used some tightening in the edit room; instead, one must wade through the shallow parts.
Lorraine tells her story in flashback as she hunts for a list containing nefarious info about her and her fellow agents—a list that could continue the Cold War for decades to come. Her hunt includes interactions with unorthodox agent David Percival (James McAvoy), somebody who mixes his espionage with partying—and trafficking in the black market for Jordache jeans.
Theron and McAvoy are good together onscreen, and their dialogue scenes are some of the best scenes that don’t involve teeth getting broken. As for the bone-crunching action, there’s a sequence in this movie that rivals a Logan scene as the best of the year thus far. Leitch coordinates a battle that starts in a building and culminates with a car chase, viewed as if it were all done in one shot. It’s an exhaustive exercise in how to keep fighting while falling down stairs, getting shot and getting your face kicked in. Even if the rest of the movie consisted of Theron and McAvoy gardening and sipping herbal teas while listening to a ballgame on the radio, Atomic Blonde would still be worth seeing for that scene. It’s classically good.
McAvoy, having a great year with this and Split, has elevated him himself from amusing curio actor to heavy hitter in 2017. He’s a nut in this movie, as was the case in Split. He’s an actor who is willing to take some risks, and they are paying off. He also might win the award for Best Strained Dialogue Delivery While Keeping a Cigarette in One’s Mouth Through a Major Ass-Kicking.
As good as he is, you won’t go to Atomic Blonde to see McAvoy. This is Theron’s vehicle, and she owns it. Theron, an Academy Award-winning actress who can dramatically spar with the best of them, is a physical performer in league with the best. In this movie, she’ll convince you that neither Conor McGregor nor Floyd Mayweather would stand a chance in the ring with Theron.
Late ’80s playlists are sure to spike on streaming services thanks to the film’s soundtrack, which includes David Bowie, Queen, Falco, ‘Til Tuesday, The Clash and, quite notably, George Michael. (His “Father Figure” is put to astonishingly good use in that classic scene I mentioned above.) Leitch and company find great ways to make the music part of the film, and while I probably never needed to hear “99 Luftbalons” again, the presence of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Cities in Dust” is much appreciated.
The summer movie season is coming to a close, and while Atomic Blonde isn’t one of the summer’s best, it does have a couple of the summer’s best scenes. I’m not sure if there’s enough here to warrant another Atomic Blonde movie, but there’s definitely room for more movies with Theron hitting people in the face with freezer doors. She’s quite good at it.
Atomic Blonde is playing at theaters across the valley.