Let’s just get this out of the way – Charlize Theron is a bad ass. If her role as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road didn’t convince you, then her turn as MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton definitely will. Based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde takes place in the middle of the Cold War, where Lorraine is sent to West Germany a few days before the collapse of the Berlin Wall to recover a list of undercover spies and also catch a double agent.
When she lands, she makes contact with fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy) to try and extract known British informant, Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), and help him and his family flee East Berlin into the West. From there, the plot get a little murky. It’s a mix of strutting down the streets of Berlin in her killer (literally) heels and getting into fights with the KGB. And to be clear, it’s almost equal parts Lorraine kicking ass and Lorraine getting her ass kicked. Almost. She is our heroine, after all.
That’s one of the best things about Atomic Blonde. Rarely do we see female spies get bruised, beat, and bloodied – they’re usually too put together for that. But not Lorraine. In fact, the opening scene of the film, which takes place after the events of Berlin, is an absolutely captivating and somewhat harrowing look at all her cuts and bruises while she takes an ice bath.
And while the film has some fantastic action and fight scenes à la John Wick (director David Leitch also directed the first Keanu Reeves film), including one climatic one-shot scene where Lorraine fights off a group of KGB agents in a staircase, the confusing plot holds the film back from being great. The flashback scenes where Lorraine is being interrogated by her MI-6 handler (Toby Jones) and the C.I.A. (John Goodman) as a framing device serve no real purpose and barely move the story along at all. Delphine (Sofia Boutella), a French spy, also adds very little to the overall story, though she does have one scene with Lorraine that sets up one of the best laughs of the film.
But in all honesty, the plot of the film doesn’t really matter. You’re coming to see Theron kick ass, and you’ll stay for the same reason. Theron, doing most of her own stunts, holds your attention throughout the entire film. She’s expressive not only through dialogue, but some of the best moments are when we have to infer Lorraine’s thoughts through Theron’s eyes. She brings new meaning to the phrase ‘if looks could kill’.
Leitch manages to make a super stylish action film with a killer (pun-intended) soundtrack to boot. It’s almost comical how some of the 80s music you’d expect to dance to at a club is being used in an intense chase scene. But that levity and humour is needed to balance out the darkness and uncertainty of the Cold War. Not to mention that the colours used by cinematographer Jonathan Sela, who also worked with Leitch on John Wick, are very much in-line with the 80s aesthetic and graphic novel feel.
The world has been wondering about a female James Bond for years now. But I don’t think Lorraine Broughton is our new 007 – she’s her own spy (and she doesn’t need fancy gadgets or cars to help her do her job). Why does Atomic Blonde have to be the female James Bond? Why can’t we have both? (I’m already dreaming of a crossover between the two.) Because the world needs, and deserves, more movies where women are kicking ass. We’ll forgive convoluted stories as long as we continue to see female spies giving their enemies a beat down.