From a plot standpoint, “Atomic Blonde” is a conventional, ho-hum spy thriller filled with crosses, double-crosses, and car chases.
But, this movie has three aces up its sleeve that kick it into a higher gear, namely its star, its strong sense of time and place, and a show-stopping fight scene.
We’ll start with the headliner. Charlize Theron plays MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, a highly-capable spy who is a cross between James Bond and Jason Bourne and more than a match for either.
Whatever glass ceiling that was left for women in action movies is shattered into a million pieces by Theron, as she punches, kicks and shoots her way through this movie with brute force and confidence without sacrificing an ounce of her femininity.
This might be best illustrated early in the film when Theron emerges from a bathtub revealing a body battered and bruised from her exploits.
The movie is set in 1989 and Lorraine is recounting her most recent mission to her direct superior (Toby Jones) and a CIA officer (John Goodman).
Lorraine has just returned from Berlin, where Cold War tension has reached a crescendo in the days before the Berlin Wall came crumbling down. Lorraine was sent to retrieve a list stolen by a rogue KGB agent that contained the identity of every Allied spy in Europe.
Lorraine is partnered with shady fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy), who is immersed in the seedy underworld on both sides of the wall. If Theron is the star of this movie, then Berlin deserves second billing, as we watch as the drab desperation of the east side of the city rubs up against the neon decadence of the west side.
The mood of the film is punctuated by the soundtrack, which is gloriously ’80s and unapologetically European in nature. (I will see your “99 Luftballons” and raise you “Der Kommissar” and the German version of “Major Tom.”)
Last, we have to talk about the fight scene, which might be the best one ever filmed, right up there with Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David in “They Live” (look it up!).
Lorraine takes on a handful of KGB agents in hand-to-hand combat on a stairwell in an extended sequence that is as brutal as it is exhausting. “Atomic Blonde” is the debut of director David Leitch, who has spent a lengthy career in Hollywood as a stuntman. You can tell this scene, which is filmed as one continuous shot (with a few “swipe” cheats here and there) is his crowning achievement.
Even though the plotline winds up being a little overly convoluted, there’s no denying the edge and the impact of this movie that more than gets by on action and style. “Atomic Blonde” musters up just enough heat to blow you away.
“Atomic Blonde” is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity.