Gah! This should have been so much better than it was. The trailer promised so much, namely a female secret agent, stylishly and brutally kicking ass in Cold War era Berlin, choreographed to an 80s synth pop soundtrack. Give me that for 90 minutes and send me home smiling thank you very much.
Unfortunately there is about 30 minutes of superfluous plot, and quite frankly, that is not why I bought the ticket. Trying to find a happy medium between John LeCarre and John Wick is never really going to work, and it’s such a shame because this film has got so much going for it. With a bit more confidence to fully embrace the pulpy sensibility, Atomic Blonde could have been really special.
Directed by John Wick alumni David Leitch, Atomic Blonde is on aesthetic overload from the get go – slick, stylish, and sexy as hell. Charlize Theron is Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 officer sent to Berlin to assassinate a double agent and recover a stolen list containing the identities of every intelligence agent in Berlin. Yes, it’s that plot again. Sigh.
Theron is once again on magnificent form, proving without a doubt that she is one of the great action stars currently working in Hollywood. The flawless accent, ice-cold exterior, and jaw-dropping allure she brings to the role are all essential components to the character. However it is the bruising physicality that really sets her apart. We frequently see her submerged in ice baths, recovering from her latest encounter with KGB goons. No punches are pulled in Atomic Blonde. As insanely choreographed as the action is, the fights all look brutally real. This is very much a result of her commitment to the role.
James McAvoy plays David Percival, the MI6 station chief in Berlin, who has gone native in the East Berlin frontier, profiteering in the communist hellhole. He delivers an enjoyably eccentric performance, bringing something a little bit different to the usual staid Cold War thriller. Unfortunately he is then given an incredibly generic Cold War thriller plot to work with, and this is where the film stumbles.
Preposterous, highly stylised and high-concept action movies, tend to succeed when they stay true to their central conceit, and keep the narrative as propulsive as possible. Atomic Blonde forgets that it’s a pulp thriller, and gets lost in a po-faced saggy spy game that is a real momentum killer.
The action however, remains quite sensational. The exquisitely choreographed central fight sequence – a seemingly single take through the rooms of an apartment, down the stairs, and then into a car chase – is incredible. More of this please.
With a bit of judicious editing this could have been a real triumph. Not quite a home-run, but as an origin story it works pretty damn well. I for one would certainly welcome more adventures with this character. Bring on the sequel.
This review first appeared on Entertainment Focus