There’s a scene near the finale of the new action-adventure Atomic Blonde that is worth the price of admission and will be talked about by anyone who sees the film.
In the one-take spectacle an MI6 operative runs up and down stairs, through hallways and even into a moving car dispatching bad guys in the most gruesome ways imaginable. The camera is always in the middle of the action and never cuts away, giving the audience the same adrenaline rush the very skilled assassin is dishing out onscreen.
The aforementioned badass is Lorraine Broughton and she’s played by Charlize Theron, proving yet again that she is the real deal and will not be pigeonholed by her looks. She’s the titular atomic blonde and her story takes place in 1989 Germany, right before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Told mostly through flashback, we see how this highly trained operative was sent on her last task, a suicide mission to retrieve a covert list detailing the whereabouts of hidden government agents.
Things get complicated when the plot gives Lorraine a psychotic sidekick to help her on her journey. He’s David Percival and as played by James McAvoy, it seems clear he wasn’t done chewing scenery on the set of Split. He plays Percival with all the nuance of a sledgehammer but that’s ok because Atomic Blonde works best when it knows the kind of movie it is, a no holds barred action extravaganza.
A few clumsy story details trip up the rhythm of the film including an awkward framing device with Lorraine’s superiors (which suck a lot of tension out of the third act) and a convoluted chase for a double agent within MI6’s ranks. But other than that, the film is a loud and proud B-movie.
Atomic Blonde was directed by David Leitch, one of the co-directors of the first John Wick film and that previous movie’s action choreography is on full display here. It might be easy to even subtitle this new outing “Jane Wick” but there aren’t enough similarities to make that name stick. Both films have incredible action set pieces thanks to ballet-like criminal dismemberment but things end there.
Instead, Atomic Blonde (adapted from the Antony Johnston novel The Coldest City) digs its nails deep in espionage grime and has a ton of fun doing it. From the moment we meet Lorraine stepping out naked of a neon blue ice bath we know the kind of movie we’re in. The cheese level only rises with the help of loud 80’s pop music and a lesbian love scene between Lorraine and a rookie agent. There is no high art to be found in Atomic Blonde and anyone looking for it will be handily dispatched by Charlize Theron’s bone-crushing action skills.
Atomic Blonde opens nationwide July 28