Lately Charlize Theron has been really working on her action star status (if you didn’t see her steal all of Mad Max Fury Road, you should). Atomic Blonde is based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City. The graphic novel revolves around a spy who has to find a list of double agents who are being smuggled into the west on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The movie follows that story pretty closely, and is also set in Berlin in 1989, just as the wall is beginning to come down. While the spies in Berlin are desperately trying to figure out where they will fit when the wall is no longer separating countries, MI6 agent James Gasciogne is killed by a veteran KGB agent, Yuri Bakhtin. Bakhtin steals a list (it’s always a list, the most solid of spy movie macguffins), which he hangs on to instead of taking it back to the Soviet Union – it would appear that he wants to sell it. Upset with that prospect, and the fact that it will compromise many of their agents, MI6 sends in agent Lorraine Broughton to meet up with their rogue agent Percival to retrieve the list. The story is told via flashback as it all takes place while Lorraine is being interrogated by both MI6 and the CIA after the fact.
Broughton explains that her cover when blown as soon as she landed, was followed by French agent LaSalle, dealt with Percival’s loose-cannon-ness, and eventually tracked down Bakhtin before he made contact with KGB associate Aleksander Bremovych. Along the way, she and Percival learn that german agent ‘Spyglass’ has memorized the entire list, so it becomes imperative to get him out of the east to the west as well.
If that all sounds a bit confusing, it is, but only a little. The plot is actually pretty thin but that’s fine, because the focus is the action. The movie is directed by David Leitch, who co-directed John Wick, and because his career started as a stunt performer and coordinator, the action is spectacular. The chase scenes around the city are interesting, but what is particularly fantastic are the hand to hand combat sequences. Leitch really knows how to shoot fight scenes, from enough of a distance that you can see the entire fight, and trying to keep the cuts to a minimum.
- Charlize Theron, to her credit, excels in the fight sequences, and gives Broughton a determined flatness that works very well with the story. She’s simply there to get the job done, regardless of what she has to deal with in the process. I found it interesting that really, the character could have been either female or male, it’s just a badass spy completing her task, and Charlize is fantastic.
- James McAvoy plays David Percival, and he’s very high strung and annoying, but that fits this role perfectly. Broughton is well aware that Percival is shady, the question is just, how shady? He manages to let you know Percival is untrustworthy, but you still want to be able to trust him.
- Eddie Marsan plays Spyglass, and really just gets to be desperate in his need to get out of the country – and totally confident that he memorized the entire list.
- John Goodman plays Emmett Kurzfeld - the CIA agent joining in on Broughton’s interrogation, and Toby Jones plays Eric Gray – the MI6 agent joining in on Broughton’s interrogation.
- Roland Moller plays Aleksander Bremovych, who terrorizes some skater kids while trying to find Bakhtin and the list.
- Sofia Boutella plays French agent Delphine Lasalle, and I will say, I felt like she was shortchanged on the fight sequences. From Kingsmen and Mummy, we know she’s capable of action, and while it was stated that LaSalle was fairly new at her job, I still wanted her to get a couple of badass fight sequences, instead of just screaming, running and flailing.
- Bill Skarsgard (yes, one of those Skarsgards: Alexander’s brother and Stellan’s son and not related to Peter) plays Merkel, Broughton’s contact in Berlin who helps her get pretty much anything she needs. Incidentally, this is the Skarsgard that is in the new It.
- Til Schweiger is completely underused as the watchmaker, who seems to be an all-around spy go-to in Berlin.
I really enjoyed the movie, even if the story was weak, because the action was so strong. It’s not too long, and the end made me curious what Broughton would get up to next.
8 out of 10 – Gained points for the stairway fight sequence. Apparently hallways and stairways are the best places for awesome fight sequences (Captain America Civil War; Daredevil, etc.).
Bonus – the movie did remind me a lot of Long Kiss Goodnight. If you haven’t seen that in a while, go back and check it out. Geena Davis was doing a bunch of ass-kicking quite a while ago.