Charlize Theron is the Queen of action films. Mad Max: Fury Road has gifted her the crown and there is no way we can dethrone her after her Furiosa performance. Here is an actress who can slam a fist into an enemy one minute and make us swell with emotion the next. She is one of the finest actresses we have and her versatility makes her unstoppable.
Continuing that trend, her latest film Atomic Blonde is a brilliant flick for her new royal status.
Based a graphic novel named The Coldest City, the film revolves around the height of the Cold War in 1989 where tensions have mounted in Berlin, still split by the giant wall. KGB spies have gained access to a list of undercover agents working for the Allies. Agent Lorraine Broughton is sent in to investigate and retrieve the list with the help of agent David Percival, who happens to be enjoying the Berlin seediness a little bit too much. Together, they have to ensure that WW3 doesn’t occur.
Atomic Blonde starts off as a hard-slog. The film certainly takes a lot of time to kick start with a rather choppy beginning that sets up a convoluted plot, struggling to set a tone between high-octane rambunctious slick action such as John Wick or Kingsman and grittier, darker, and grimmer action tales. Within this muddle, Charlie Theron and co fail to stand out as your attention worryingly slips bit by bit into this rather tedious affair.
Luckily, the film decides to get it’s act together by the end of the first half. The tonal discrepancies meld into each other as the gloss and grit become fellows instead of enemies, the plot points unfold and clear the foggy element whilst director David Leitch gifts us with some breath-taking scenes. It is almost as though Atomic Blonde was fooling us – tricking us into believing the entire movie is going to be naff before unleashing pure action fury upon our eyeballs. The fights are superbly done (more on that later) and you start to care for the characters in this meshed world.
Charlize Theron, plummy accent aside, is a tremendous actress here. I mean. That’s a given. We all know she is going be excellent but her lead actress “badassery” is genuinely exhilarating here. What is remarkable about the film is that she is never under the male gaze, even during a sex scene with Sofia Boutella, she has an agency that is entirely her own (and, sidenote, she is a bisexual heroine and what’s not to love about that. Representation matters). A lot has been said about the fighting sequences and Broughton’s style. The more I think about it, the more I recognise its genius. It tackles this notion of Strong Female Characters who punch and quip, very rarely getting bruised or hurt. In fact, with our lead here, she puts up tremendous battles with her opponents but she has to work twice as hard to scrape and maim her opponents. It is with these pulpy and meaty fights Atomic Blonde really excels. She gets hurt (actually, the appropriate term here is “she gets fucked up.”) It’s exhausting to watch but also humorous and intoxicating and absolutely paramount in setting Theron’s character away from the usual SFC pack. She’s a fantastically compelling lead, with a layered history you cannot wait to untangle with intriguing debriefing scenes flowing in a hilarious arc.
James McAvoy’s feral Percival is a fascinating side character reminiscent of his stellar role in Filth (there is even a moment where you want him to bellow Same Rules Apply.) The greatest thing about Percival is you think you know him, but there are plenty of surprises here. Rambunctious and energetic, McAvoy is having the time of his life playing this tantalising role. Alongside the pair of them are the likes of Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, and John Goodman who get some great moments in here too.
Takes a while to kick in but then kicks you in the face with awesome. You won’t get out of Atomic Blonde the same high you get from Leitch’s John Wick and those first sketchy scenes really do dull the final product, frustratingly. But, nevertheless, there is enough humour and ferocious scenes to appease. Especially with a grim yet neon addled aesthetic and remixed 80s soundtrack. A violently amusing cinematic respite for your brain.
Atomic Blonde is out 11th August