ATOMIC BLONDE (David Leitch, 2017)
Opens Friday, July 28
Charlize Theron is nothing less than awesome in the action spy thriller Atomic Blonde, but that should come as no surprise; she was also awesome as a secret agent in 2005’s Æon Flux and as a one-armed, one-woman wrecking crew in 2015’s feminist Mad Max: Fury Road. But she’s not quite awesome enough to save this overloaded, overstylized mess, the solo directorial debut of former stuntman David Leitch, who previously made John Wick with Chad Stahelski. It’s November 1989, and the Berlin Wall is about to come down. But before that happens, secret agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is dispatched by her boss at MI6, Eric Gray (Toby Jones), to Berlin to locate a stolen list of spies with severely damaging ramifications should it get into the wrong hands. In Germany, Broughton teams up with maverick station chief David Percival (James McAvoy), a pro who refuses to play by the rules. She also must help protect Stasi defector Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), who originally obtained the list, while seeking to exact revenge on German operative Merkel (Bill Skarsgård), who killed her friend and colleague James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave). Among those looking to buy the information is arms dealer Aleksander Bremovych (Roland Møller), who doesn’t care how many dead bodies he leaves in his path. Also entering the fray is French spy Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), who quickly takes a rather personal liking to Broughton. Most of the film is told through flashbacks as Broughton is being interrogated by Gray and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman), who not only want the list but need to uncover who the elusive traitor “Satchel” is. If the plot sounds both clichéd and convoluted, that’s because it is.
Atomic Blonde is based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, and Leitch is unable to take the story to the next level. Instead, it looks and feels like a series of comic-book panels turned into music videos filled with ultraviolence, set to a throwback score of such 1980s hits as “99 Luftballoons,” “Voices Carry,” “Under Pressure,” “Blue Monday,” “Der Kommissar,” and “I Ran (So Far Away),” performed by the original artists or in new cover versions in a specific effort to bring in a younger audience. Individually the fight scenes and chases are extremely well made, but they bring the ridiculous plot to a halt each time, becoming merely opportunities to display spectacular fight choreography and sound editing. Theron trained extensively for the role, working with Keanu Reeves, who was preparing to film John Wick: Chapter 2 with Strahelski, and she’s a powerful force, dispatching villains like Uma Thurman did as Black Mamba in Kill Bill,.When Theron rises naked from a tub of ice, it’s as if Broughton is from another galaxy. But she’s not; instead, she’s the main character in an overblown Cold War spy thriller that favors style over substance, technological flashiness over at least some semblance of narrative. Atomic Blonde could have been a great music video or short film, but at nearly two hours, it’s just a waste of time and talent.