Atomic Blonde is so much fun, a female iteration of Jason Bourne style action, with a splash of Soviet-era John Le Carré spycraft thrown in, and with vibrant visual style and peppy ’80s dance music giving it retro life and energy. Though the plot can get confused and muddled at times, director David Leitch manages to so effectively distract us with directorial flourish, and Charlize Theron is so convincingly effective as the badass spy we see on screen, that Atomic Blonde nonetheless remains a wholly effective action thriller.
We always knew Charlize Theron could act; we even knew that she could do action filmmaking, which is a challenge unto itself for actors. With that said, in the last couple of years, between Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde, she’s really put herself among the A-list of action stars. Between her physically punishing stunt-work, her willingness to rough up her movie star looks, and the sense of grit and tenacity that she manages to so effectively convey, she’s made herself into an A-list action lead in Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde. Here, she plays a British spy, sent into Berlin to retrieve a MacGuffin of sorts, a document containing the identities of all the spies in Berlin.
The overall style of Atomic Blonde certainly fulfills the title, a vivacious retro-modern feel crossing modern action filmmaking (incredibly visceral, punishing action clearly inspired by the Jason Bourne movies; not for the squeamish) with ’80s style, filling the screen bright, unnatural colors – neons and cyans and magentas – and ’80s dance music and costuming. At times, the visual flourish can overwhelm the action, but overall the visual continuity is fun and different.
The plot here is, as mentioned, not the easiest to follow. I’m sure if you took notes, you could probably map things out linearly, but there’s just enough opacity here to distract from the action at times. With that said, it’s so propulsive that mostly you just need to pay attention to whoever Charlize Theron is fighting in any given moment. Though some of the moments of the film blend together, others stand out quite vividly; the most memorable moment of the film one involving umbrellas that I won’t spoil but that made me laugh in joy.
It’s also worth commenting on the performance by the always-entertaining James McAvoy, here as a fellow British spy implanted in Berlin, a local expert who has embedded himself thoroughly in Berlin, trading information for favors and American exports. McAvoy does a good job of playing all the angles, of showing layer upon layer. Is he a double agent, or a triple agent? Does it really matter? He’s all kinds of fun.
A movie that comes to mind in thinking about Atomic Blonde is the 2010 Angelina Jolie vehicle, Salt; both are spy-thrillers starring bad-ass action women, both have confusing plots but style to spare. Atomic Blonde is probably slightly superior to that film, though I’d have to go back and re-evaluate to be sure (it’s been a while); fun films like these deserve recognition, even if they’re not necessarily the most important or impactful films ever made. I had a really good time with Atomic Blonde.