MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1hr 55min
An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.
While comic book adaptations have been a mixed bag over the years, and video game big screen translations have been abysmal, graphic novels have often moved to the big screen with great zeal and rich detail. Atomic Blonde continues the tradition with a thrilling, daring adventure set at the end of the Cold War.
As the Berlin Wall is set to be torn down, a British secret agent arrives in Berlin to locate a list of agents that may have fallen into Russian hands. As she tries to uncover the twisted plot that threatens to expose her and several prominent agents, the various players mobilize to take her down in this slow-boil espionage thriller. Also involved in the affair are James McAvoy as an MI:6 agent who appears to have gone rogue, Sofia Boutella as a French agent with dangerous photography skills, Eddie Marsan as a German bureaucrat who possesses the list both in coded watch-form and in memory, Toby Jones as an MI:6 agent debriefing Theron’s Lorraine Broughton, and John Goodman as an intel chief for the C.I.A.
As the snow-covered streets of Berlin create a haunting abience, Lorraine slinks through the streets with cold precision, carefully unraveling the myriad strands of Cold War plotting that have been twisted together in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. Her motives are more nuanced than revenge for a fallen lover, as she fights to protect herself and her cohorts in a vicious display of aggressive fury and rigorous calculation. She’s like a wounded panther stalking her prey, falling a few steps behind at times, but always precisely where she needs to be to stage a surprise attack on those who’ve injured her.
Many actresses have delved into the action genre, a realm that men have often held dominion over. Of those few women, one of the best at creating robust characters whose lives we want to examine further is Charlize Theron. With her solo action debut Aeon Flux, Theron tried hard to convince us that the film was worth caring about, but a dreadful execution didn’t help in the slightest. It wasn’t until Mad Max: Fury Road that she had a role truly deserving of both her charismatic star quality and her acting talents. It was a standout performance. Now, she’s back at the helm of the genre and proving perfectly adept in the field with Atomic Blonde.
This Cold War spy story feels draw directly from the period and proves a natural fit for the tumultuous times. Theron gives one of her best performances while McAvoy is a thrilling addition. Stunt coordinator-turned-director David Leitch has crafted a swift-moving ride that features one of the single best fight sequences ever conceived, a 10-minute stairway battle that looks incredibly impressive, but feels slightly out of place within the rest of the film thanks to a too-natural soundscape. While the hyper-stylized setting may seem straight out of James Bond, Broughton is far more reminiscent of the likes of Jason Bourne, a gritty contemporary figure who focuses on swift shifts in plot in order to carve out a dark, crushing feature that’s exciting through much of its run time.
Atomic Blonde follows in the steps of grand graphic novel adaptations like V for Vendetta, American Splendor, Snowpiercer, and Road to Perdition. Although it sits squarely as the least of these five, it’s a no less impressive achievement. A culmination of several disparate elements, Atomic Blonde melds its set pieces and action sequences into a raucous knuckle-grinding drama that puts all of the recent Jason Bourne and James Bond films to shame. If this weren’t likely a one-off event, this could be the answer to the various calls over the years for a woman to take over the codename “Double-O-Seven.” Let that franchise maintain its homogeneity, we’ll gladly take Lorraine Broughton and her adventures as a replacement.