Movie Review: “Atomic Blonde” (R)
There are few things sexier and more gracious in the cinematic world than Charlize Theron kicking ass! And there’s quite a bit of ass-kicking in “Atomic Blonde,” the latest slick, ultra-violent actioneer from “John Wick” co-director David Leitch. In fact, one might affectionately refer to this movie as “Joan Wick.” More on that in a moment.
In “Atomic Blonde,” undercover agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is sent in to the heart of Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Her mission? To retrieve a list that just so happens to contain a handful of very important names. During her dangerous search, Lorraine crosses paths with an assortment of colorful individuals including James McAvoy’s wired David Percival and Sofia Boutella’s mysterious Delphine Lasalle. Of course, no spy thriller would be complete without a squad of thugs wanting to kill our fearless heroine, and there’s plenty of that going on in “Atomic Blonde” too.
Theron is a force of nature in this movie, and it goes well beyond her undeniable beauty. This committed actress has proven herself time and time again both in the dramatic world (see her brilliant Oscar-winning turn in “Monster”) and on the action front (“Fury Road” is one for the record books), and as expected, Theron commits to “Atomic Blonde” 100 percent. That hard work pays off, particularly during this film’s exhausting action sequences.
The comparisons to “John Wick” and the “Bourne” series are more than a little obvious, but when action stylist Leitch is letting the fighting do the talking, there’s no doubt that “Atomic Blonde” is an explosive, high-octane, bone-crunching thrill ride. Look no further than the much talked-about single-shot stairway brawl. Obviously, there are hidden cuts in the near-10 minute sequence, but it’s still an impressive set piece filled with stunning choreography. What’s more, as over-the-top as some of these fights tend to get (moments reminded me of that epic Roddy Piper/Keith David street fight in John Carpenter’s gloriously entertaining “They Live”), a lot of this stuff still feels grounded. Translation: You can feel the pain! And in fact, these brawls are no walk in the park for Lorraine. She takes as many punches as she gives, and the physical anguish she experiences is written all over her battered body.
As good as “Atomic Blonde” looks (more than a few winks at the likes of Brian DePalma) and as energetic as the soundtrack is (it’s no “Baby Driver,” but it’s a strong effort nonetheless), this movie isn’t without its problems. There’s simply too much going on. Double-crosses (a couple of them are painfully obvious in this picture) are to be expected in a film of this nature, but there’s so many characters and so many plot developments here that “Atomic Blonde” tends to collapse under the weight of its own convoluted nature. Furthermore, there’s a relationship at the heart of the movie that is a little less than developed, leading to a final-act moment that doesn’t feel as earned as it should.
Thankfully, trying to figure out who’s actually pulling whose strings throughout “Atomic Blonde” leads to a pleasant enough payoff. This, coupled with a committed Theron, solid supporting work from McAvoy and John Goodman, and a handful of expertly conceived action sequences, ultimately makes the ultra-violent “Atomic Blonde” worth watching.