In order to make the new action/thriller Atomic Blonde as awesome as potentially possible, it looks like the producers of this project swung for the fences and got two of the most influential figures of the mid-2010’s American cinema action scene. David Leitch, one of the two directors of John Wick and one of the fight choreographers for the Captain America sequels (Chad Stahleski joined him on both of those duties), whose helped create a fresh modern-day style of cogently filmed and intense hand-to-hand combat, is helming this motion picture while his leading actor of the piece is Charlize Theron, star of one of the most iconic films of this decade in any genre, Mad Max: Fury Road. Alas, them working together doesn’t result in a movie anywhere near as good as their best movies, though that doesn’t mean Atomic Blonde doesn’t have its own action-packed pleasures.
The year is 1989. Tensions between the Eastern and Western sectors of Russia are mounting as it looks like a wall that divides the country may be coming down in the near future due to mounting pressure from both domestic protesters and international governments. Walking into the country during such a tumultuous time is Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a super spy for Britain whose looking to discover The List, which is a, well, list of all secret agents working for the world’s various governments. In the wrong hands, this could mean millions of agents and their secret identities are at risk. Now that The List is in the hands of someone in Russia, she’s off to go retrieve it.
Lest you think the situation is too big for one person, don’t worry, she’s got David Percival (James McAvoy) to help her out, though how much help he can really be due to his incredibly eccentric tendencies is up for debate. While looking for The List, Broughton is also trying to search for a mole that’s leaking MI6 secrets to the enemy, which only complicates things further. Luckily, this isn’t Broughton’s first rodeo and she’s got plenty of combat experience and craftiness on her side. Will all those attributes of hers be enough, though, to stop an enemy that seems to know her every move and comes at her in relentless waves?
When it comes to the action, Atomic Blonde may as well be a UPS driver because it totally delivers. Leitch keeps the visually cohesive way of filming and editing action from the original John Wick movie he co-directed intact and it makes for some wonderfully unique action sequences. Lorraine Broughton has no trouble dishing out brutal violence against her enemies and it’s cool how the script subtly has her using every possible object she comes into contact with during her fights as a weapon of sorts. This recurring detail emphasizes the characters cunning nature and also makes for some delightfully unpredictable combat scenes since you really don’t know what or how Lorraine is gonna be taking down her next opponent.
It’s primarily thanks to these action sequences that I found Atomic Blonde, as an overall movie, to be a frequently entertaining motion picture, though it certainly undermines its own sense of fun at times with its overly convoluted plot. This being a spy movie, one pretty much expects a sense of unpredictability in terms of allegiances and who our lead character can truly trust, but by the time the third act arrives, Atomic Blonde has succumbed to the same sort of problem the first two Pirates of The Carribean sequels faced wherein all the twists and turns come off as being needlessly overcomplicated instead of enhancing the sense of danger and uncertainty the protagonist has become embroiled in.
Surprise reveals keep getting piled on (particularly in an overlong final scene), which came off to me as if the writers of this project realized that the primary mystery of who the mole is giving all the valuable info to enemy forces was far too easy to figure out so they just kept piling on plot-related surprises in an effort to heighten the intrigue. Many of these big plot details coming into play in the third act only got worse in my mind in terms of how they were executed the more I thought about them. That’s a pity, since it not only misses the delightfully streamlined nature of both John Wick movies and Mad Max: Fury Road, but Atomic Blonde is also at its best, by far, when it’s just about Charlize Theron snapping necks and taking names. Having a third act that’s super light on action and entirely devoted to unnecessary plot twists feels like an underwhelming capper to what’s otherwise been a serviceable action film.
Thankfully, we have Charlize Theron’s great lead performance as Lorraine Broughton to brighten things up even when Atomic Blonde hits its weakest moments. Theron delivers her characters cool, calm and collected persona in a natural manner that makes it incredibly convincing to believe Lorraine can handle herself in any kind of fight even before she’s tossed a punch in the movie proper. In the supporting cast, James McAvoy gets to have some fun as a sleazy accomplice of Lorraine’s and Sofia Boutella delivers maybe the best performance in the whole film as Lorraine’s impromptu lover. Meanwhile, David Leitch’s directing isn’t just impressive in the action scenes, there’s a strong sense of shot composition, framing and even proper use of color grading that gives Atomic Blonde an excellent visual scheme and plenty of shots to write home about. I seriously wish the strong directing and acting in Atomic Blonde was used on a script that wasn’t so overly convoluted, since that critical flaw means movie loses a lot of its potential fun, but at least Atomic Blonde is mostly thrilling and serviceable action fare with some truly impressive action-packed moments to its name.