Basically: Atomic Blonde is a Molotov cocktail that shakes your senses and goes BOOM!
Atomic Blonde could also be called Spy vs. Spy vs. Secret Agent vs. KGB while the Berlin Wall comes tumbling down. Lorraine Broughton, the heroine originally written by Antony Johnston for Oni Press, comes to slinky life in the form of Charlize Theron. She’s an MI6 agent sent to Germany to find a list of deep-cover operatives aptly named The List. James McAvoy is David Percival, the Berlin Station Chief, who can’t be described as anything other than sexy weasel. (How did he pull that off?) Percival is also Lorraine’s contact in a city full of spies, counterspies, thugs, and political unrest—everyone is looking for The List—and as to be expected we, like Lorraine, can’t tell who to trust.
The late 80s spycraft is as highly attuned as the soundtrack in Atomic Blonde; everything from Public Enemy to The Clash rocks our speakers, while clockwork conveys hidden messages and a lipstick red stiletto becomes a weapon. It’s thrilling…sometimes, funny…sometimes, and convoluted all the way through. Just like the fast changing beats in its tunes, Atomic Blonde is uneven and intense. Oddly the film is at its best near the end of the second act, when the action ramps up to cartoonish and you can’t believe how FUBAR-twisted Lorraine’s well laid plans go.
The tension of distrust, especially between Lorraine and Percival, and then between Lorraine and her MI6 bosses as she debriefs them, keeps you sharply aware throughout the runtime—but at moments that same tension overwhelms to the point you disconnect from the intrigue. The movie is good, but the rhythm is off, and I can’t shake the suspicion the script was a few beats from being amazing.
Did I enjoy it? For sure. I love ass-kicking heroines and Atomic Blonde is more like an assassin flick then a tale of espionage; it has some of the same appeal as films like The Long Kiss Goodnight, John Wick, and La Femme Nikita…but (you knew the but was coming) I don’t want to sing about this film the way I did with those. Perhaps because the filmmakers focus so much on building distrust along with breakneck action, we don’t get a chance to connect to any of the characters enough to care about the next crash or shocking gunshot wound.
In the end: See it. Atomic Blonde is like an amusement park ride, the adrenaline is high and you’ll have a good time but ultimately it’s over and you’re off to find a bigger thrill.