Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella
Running Time: 1:55
From the get, Atomic Blonde earns half a star for acknowledging reality. We’ve all wondered how movie heroes keep having those hellacious battles and end up unmarked, unbowed and looking like a million bucks at the end of the flick.
In Atomic Blonde, our first glimpse of movie heroine and superspy Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), is of her submerged in bathwater filled with ice cubes. As she gets out of the tub, we see that she’s covered with bruises, scratches, gashes and cuts from top to bottom, back to front, pretty face included.
The marks are fresh from a fierce, to the death battle she just engaged in during her latest mission, which she is on her way to spy headquarters to update her superiors about.
Most of Atomic Blonde is told through flashback as MI6 British Agent Broughton recounts to them events to this point in a case where spies from all sides are looking for a master list of all the spies, presumably on all sides, that are operating in the European theater in 1989, when the movie takes place, as the Berlin Wall is about to fall.
It’s not like looking for the Maltese Falcon, but this master spy list is a convenient plot device in many an espionage movie and makes you wonder why such a master list is needed in the first place. Couldn’t it be chopped into thirds with some people knowing parts of it and nobody knowing the whole thing? Seems like that would make it more secure than just being a single document.
And besides, in this movie, there’s a central character who has memorized the entire list anyway, so why not just have this guy or someone else be the list keeper and not have it written down at all? In fact, it’s not even clear who the list belongs to in the movie, though it’s verified to name all the single, double and triple agents in town.
But again, that’s not important. It’s just a device on which to hang the spy plot and let the action revolve around from this graphic novel/comic book – and aren’t all movies from comic books these days?
It’s becoming a truism in films lately that if your movie doesn’t have much to say, play a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, and play it loudly. Then throw in that already clichéd special effect of speeding up the car lights zooming around town until the audience is dizzy.
That’s pretty much what Atomic Blonde is for its first oh, hour and 10 minutes – a story so relatively uninteresting that at points, as you’re thinking about your schedule for tomorrow or what’s for dinner tonight, you realize you’re just looking at the movie, instead of watching it.
Like, hummh, you wonder if the main checkpoint to cross the Berlin Wall was really that small, less than a half block, with the “good” Western agents on one side of the crossing bar and the “bad” Eastern agents on the other side? I saw the same setup on an old Mission: Impossible rerun last week and that seemed to be the case.
Or you wonder, is Sofia Boutella, who plays a love interest here, really the same actress who was supposed to terrorize in Tom Cruise’s recent schlock flick The Mummy, as mousey as she looks in this movie?
Or, my goodness, look at those shoes, that ensemble! Indeed, in this film, Theron is sporting some snazzy rags, with enough haute couture dresses, coats and zippered items silhouetted well on her statuesque frame that it earns the movie another half star.
Or you wonder, why is everybody smoking in this movie? Even in 1989, the movement to cut the nicotine scourge from society was in full force, so it’s not like smoking was a benign thing back then, like it was when glamorized in black-and-white movies from the 1940s and ‘50s.
But right about then, about 45 minutes from the end, comes the spectacular fight scene that left Agent Broughton black and blue in her opening scene, and Atomic Blonde takes off from there. This is a fight where everybody is smacking everybody else around with incredible force and whatever item a character happens to be thrown next to – floor lamps, chairs, kitchen knives, etc. – is picked up and used with bad intent.
Theron really holds her own in this fight and from there on out as she attempts to save the day and solve this caper. In the end, Atomic Blonde turns out to be a decent enough spy thriller that could have been a lot better if the film’s makers had believed a bit more in their material and approached the story a little more seriously.
It’s only half bad. The first half.