Film Review: Atomic Blonde

I have no idea how she does it. Charlize Theron is one of the biggest badasses on the planet. This is a woman who can go from broad comedies to crazy action movies to serious melodramas and intense character studies without batting an eyelash. The woman is also a tremendous individual outside of her acting work with the crazy amounts of charity stuff she does on the side as well. Why did I start this review by kissing her ass? Well, it’s because anything with her name attached is going to get a viewing from me automatically and I may even end up a bit biased in the end; I don’t care. She is everything.

This film concerns the story of Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), who is sent to the Soviet Union circa 1989 right as the dissension between East and West Berlin is slowly coming to an end and the wall is mere days from being torn down. Broughton is to retrieve a list of spy aliases (including her own) which is being sought after by Russian forces. Broughton joins a shifty station chief named Percival (James McAvoy) while also dealing with her attraction to a young French contact by the name of Delphine (Sofia Boutella). Broughton must retrieve the list before it falls in the wrong hands and the Russians gain the upper hand. Much badassery, gunplay and a steamy love scene ensue.

The first thing that will become known as an obvious detriment to the film right away is the plot. It’s a bit thin overall and the constant back-and-forth about who has the list, who’s memorized the list, who’s working for who, etc. will cause a bit of a headache. More than once, I found myself trying to remember which character they were talking about because there were so many names to recall. In fact, I think I cared less about the overall plot than just the general sense of fun that this film exuded. You will find yourself trying to figure out who is working for who and then only moments later, start laughing uncontrollably at a scene where a Russian beats down some punk kid with a skateboard all while “99 Red Balloons” (in German of course) is playing in the background. This movie is essentially a paper-thin plot while we move between set pieces and I was mostly fine with that.

The acting is nothing to sneeze at either though. Charlize Theron is a goddess as I said in my opening paragraph and can pull off a role like this in her sleep. She dazzles every time she is on-screen and lights it up sometimes without even saying a word. She is absolutely gorgeous in this movie too and has one of the most intense sex scenes I’ve seen in a while. James McAvoy is another terrific actor who can pull off a number of different kinds of performances. Here he is intimidating mostly because he is so unpredictable and at times, very violent. You never quite know what the character is planning and the scary thing is that McAvoy makes it seem like sometimes the character doesn’t even know what he will do next. Smaller appearances come in the form of Sofia Boutella, who impressed many critics in the otherwise-awful The Mummy and she does a similar thing here. She has a natural magnetism and a good deal of chemistry with Theron as well. Toby Jones and John Goodman play a couple of investigators and their presence is welcome but their parts are fairly small and not as vivid as some of the rest.

As I said above, the action set pieces are the most impressive aspects of the movie to behold and there are plenty of awesome ones. From the scene that’s being heralded of where Charlize goes medieval on some baddies in a staircase which leads to a huge fight scene involving a corkscrew and a massive car chase that may be one of the best in a long while. Admittedly, the last half of the movie is the strongest part. There are also crazy fight scenes in a movie theatre, a scene in which Theron only uses rope as a weapon the entire time and much more craziness that I don’t dare get into too much in this review. During all of this too, the director paints the screen in a gorgeous way that really makes you feel like you are right there in the 1980s. This movie could have been made during that period and you would not notice the difference aside from some very stylized title cards. Yet for all its flashiness and pizazz, I only wonder how great it could’ve been had the script been tighter, the characters been more developed and the pacing more consistent.

Still, it’s definitely worth a watch and a fun time at the movies. Check it out!

RATING: *** ½

 

Rating System:

Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)

* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)

** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)

*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)

**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)

***** (Flawless; a true achievement)