“I didn’t just want to play a girly spy who depends on her flirty ways,” Charlize Theron told W Magazine. Mission accomplished. Based on the wild ‘n woolly graphic novel “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart “Atomic Blonde” is a Cold War thriller that sees Theron dropkick Daniel Craig or Matt Damon out of the space they’ve occupied as film’s go-to super spies.
Set in 1989, just days before the fall of the Berlin wall, the film starts with the KGB assassination of an undercover MI6 operative in East Berlin. Theron plays Agent Lorraine Broughton, a high-ranking MI6 spy sent to the communist side of the wall to retrieve a dossier containing the names of other vulnerable British intelligence assets. “It’s an atomic bomb of information that could set the Cold War back 40 years!”
Toby Jones and John Goodman as MI6 and CIA head honchos respectively urge her not to trust anyone but she sparks up a personal and professional relationship with an inexperienced French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella). Because everybody wants the dossier she is teamed with shady Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy)—a “feral” man who moonlights selling bootlegged Jack Daniels to tourists—to beat the US, UK, USSR and France to the punch. How? By folding, spindling, mutilating, punching, kicking and head butting. There’s death by cork screw, fist and bullet and everything in between in some of the most dynamic fight scenes we’re likely to see on screen this year (and that includes “John Wick 2).
The trailers make “Atomic Bomb” look like wall-to-wall action. It isn’t. It’s a cold war spy movie with intermittent wild and woolly fisticuffs. And that’s OK. The fight scenes definite highlights and get the pulse racing but to be truly effective all movies must have hills and valleys.
If it was all action it would be like a Jason Statham movie. All talking it would be “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” As it is it hits the sweet spot between the two.
It’s a stylish film with visceral action scenes connected by an original cold war story, compelling characters and German versions of 80s pop hits.
This isn’t a Michael Bay style spectacular, it’s up-close-and-personal bare-knuckled warfare. Theron and her victims grunt and groan as fists hits faces and all manner of mayhem is unleashed. One particularly intense fight scene mixes and matches the above-mentioned grunts and groans with the catchy pop of George Michaels’ “Father Figure.” An even more effective sequence gets rid of the music completely.
The tour de force six-minute fight scene looks like a one-shot wonder. It’s hard to believe there isn’t some trickery involved but the sequence is dazzling nonetheless.
As Broughton, Theron is not a superhero. She comes out on top of most fights but emerges bruised and battered, which lends an air of unpredictability to the =storytelling.
“Atomic Blonde” is a violent, arty spy flick that doesn’t just open the door for Charlize Theron to create an effective spy franchise; it kicks it off its hinges.