The mission is challenging from the start as Broughton spends as much time fighting for her life as trying to complete the mission. ("I'm gonna kill you, bitch!" one villain smirks, second before she runs a corkscrew threw his trachea; "Am I still a bitch?" she comes back... uh, yeah, definitely!) Even the appreciative preview audience laughed as some of the will-not-die moments.
Anything Jason Bourne can do, the "Atomic Blonde" can also do, and she does it in heels.
If you can get past the cliches and corny characters, and if you want your MTV, some fun fashions and a lady who takes charge, you might fall hard for Theron as the positively nuclear "Atomic Blonde".
Taking after the "John Wick" school of cinema, "Atomic Blonde" is an intimate action film where the violence is quick and bad. Enjoyment of the film will depend entirely on how much you enjoy the set pieces. That's because Charlize Theron's Lorraine Broughton is an MI6 agent. Like Watchmen, Atomic Blonde is based on a graphic novel - Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's The Coldest City - and is set during the Cold War. It's also the one fight not soundtracked to an '80s pop hit, just heavy breathing and crunching bones. (The only one, in fact, would be 2005's great-looking and mortally flawed Æon Flux.) We should have had three or four other movies like Atomic Blonde instead of relegating her to the token parts in The Italian Job and Prometheus, but I'm glad this Cold War spy thriller gives her such a deadly stylish showcase.
There are fleeting moments of personality shown, such as the under-her-breath invectives directed at her MI6 boss (Toby Jones) and an assisting Central Intelligence Agency chief (John Goodman) during a post-mission debriefing.
Directed by David Leitch (who was an uncredited director on John Wick), the film expertly melds a cat and mouse mystery/thriller with the aforementioned fights to create something that elevates it above a simple action flick. The production design in Atomic Blonde is seal skin slick, always pushing right up against the line of too slick, always one beat away from becoming a full-on perfume commercial or nouveau Robert Palmer video.
Broughton is black and blue at the opening of David Leitch's "Atomic Blonde", and the first thought is that Theron must be licking her wounds from playing Furiosa in "Mad Max: Fury Road".
The screenplay by Kurt Johnstad (based on the Oni Press graphic novel series "The Coldest City") has a nice stream of sophistication with subtle philosophical musings - well appreciated. There's talk about a list containing the identities of all the double agents being smuggled out of the Soviet Union, and the consequences of the list falling into the wrong hands are vaguely dire. And James McAvoy is horribly miscast as a weaselly spy who has gone native; he is too Michael J. Fox, to play that kind of hardened predator. So rarely does violence actually hurt in mainstream movies that this choice seems almost fearless. He is also an award-winning stunt coordinator. And a nearly-10-minute, apparently uncut fight-and-flight sequence is an eye-popping wonder, made all the better for not portraying Broughton as some invincible warrior or her foes as susceptible to being rendered unconscious by a single blow. He lets editing and music serve as twin pistons that keep "Atomic Blonde" purring charismatically from beginning to loop-de-loop end. It feels like everyone upped their game on that one.
As she does, Ms. Theron locks down your attention immediately, holding you with her beauty and quiet vigilance.
The terrific soundtrack includes the likes of David Bowie, New Order, 'Til Tuesday, Siouxsie & The Banshees and the most mournful cover version of "99 Luftballons" you'll probably ever hear.
Not every twist in "Atomic Blonde" is as "twisty" as the filmmakers might have envisioned. Since Theron is wearing a bad blonde wig, she can easily be subbed out for a stunt-woman through hidden edits to make for some remarkable rounds of punchy-punchy.