It’s been a strong summer for women kicking some serious ass. Wonder Woman hit the screens and became a critical and box office smash. Now, with Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron steps up to the plate in a spy thriller that feels like John Wick met Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s full of action, violence, sex and style, but how does it all come together? Well, did I mention it has Charlize Theron in it? That’s often a good start.
The film takes place in Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We find Charlize Theron’s character, a spy, being interrogated by her bosses (John Goodman and Toby Jones) over a botched mission that ended in the death of an agent. The story is revealed to us as she tells it. We learn about her encounters with various characters, such as fellow spies James McAvoy and Sofia Boutella. From here, things get real messy, real fast. A web of betrayals, double-betrayals, murder (and a little sex) is revealed piece by piece.
Atomic Blonde is a movie that oozes style. The colors are bold and neon. The characters are over the top. Theron herself is just flat out cool. Then there’s the music, which similar to the recent smash hit Baby Driver, is a character in itself. The film is filled with incredible songs, pumping extra juice into the already high paced proceedings. The era and setting of 1989 Berlin creates quite a contrast with such bright colors and loud sounds. You can tell that director, David Leitch, was the man behind the film as there are certainly a lot of similarities in style to John Wick, which he was heavily involved in. In fact, one of the problems the film has is that you almost find yourself forced to compare it to John Wick. No matter how good it is, that’s tough competition.
The next direct comparison is with the action itself. Atomic Blonde does not disappoint in that department. The earlier scenes in the film are really good, but not great. Not anything we haven’t seen before anyway. But the second half of the film, especially the adrenaline pumping third act is absolutely stunning.
One pivotal action scene where Theron and company are attempting a wild escape, the music actually goes quiet. It has an incredible effect, because we’re so trained to expect music with the action, but this time all we hear are bullets, bones and screams of rage and fatigue. It’s a non-stop 10 minute fight sequence that is completely brutal and completely incredible, shot flawlessly. It felt like one take, even though it certainly wasn’t. While most of the film’s fight scenes are great but just short of John Wick, this one ranks right up there at the top.
Now, the action in Atomic Blonde wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the fact that Charlize Theron is an absolute beast. Word is she did many of her own stunts and all the fight scenes. There’s footage out there of her destroying stunt men one after another. It really does add a ton of authenticity to the action. There is little action that Theron isn’t a part of during the film, and the film benefits from that.
Plot wise the film is a little thin. It’s a fine story, and it’s engaging in that twist and turn type of way that spy movies can be. It certainly throws some curve-balls at the viewer, but they are pitches we’ve seen before. The characterization is a bit thin, and again that’s generally forgivable when the style and action are so strong. The one omission that is tough to overcome is the lack of any real villain.
There are whiffs of a bad guy here and there but they’re honestly a little lazy. The villain is supposed to be replaced by the hunt for a traitor, but in a film that is not meant to be overly deep it generally helps to have that easy to hate villain right in front of your face. The lack of such made it a little harder to see the film as more than some filler surrounded by incredible action scenes. I don’t want it to sound like too much of a problem though. There’s hardly enough time to worry about it.
While it might not quite be John Wick, Atomic Blonde did not disappoint. It’s a super slick, action packed, fun thriller that will keep your heart pounding. The first half is not quite as engaging as the second, but when that latter portion kicks in it’s like the film was just warming you up for the real thing. Boy, does the real thing hit hard. While it might not be a movie you never forget, it’s one of the better action films of the year.
Movie Melt Score: 7/10