***1/2 (out of 5)
July 28, 2017
Charlize Theron as LORRAINE BROUGHTON
James McAvoy as DAVID PERCIVAL
Eddie Marsan as SPYGLASS
John Goodman as EMMETT KURZFELD
Toby Jones as ERIC GRAY
James Faulkner as CHIEF
Roland Møller as ALEKSANDER BREMOVYCH
Sofia Boutella as DELPHINE LASALLE
Bill Skarsgård as MERKEL
Studio: Focus Features
Directed by: David Leitch
BY KEVIN CARR
Charlize Theron takes center stage in the political actioner “Atomic Blonde.” Based on a graphic novel, the film tells the story of an MI-6 agent wrapped up in intrigue and deception on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Theron’s Lorraine Broughton is a brilliant and lethal agent brought in to track down a list of spies and operatives that has gone missing. Why people continue to put all the information and aliases of spies and operatives on a piece of microfilm boggles the mind, but that is the McGuffin for this film.
Lorraine teams up with Percival (James McAvoy), a somewhat rogue agent who was last to see a key asset who has memorized the list. While trying to avoid Soviet entanglements, Lorraine and Percival work to smuggle this information out of East Berlin. The movie itself is told in flashback from Lorraine’s perspective as she is debriefed by her superiors, wearing the bruises and black eyes from her many battles.
The big reason to see this movie is to watch Charlize Theron kick a whole lotta ass throughout. It’s being heralded as a new version of a 007 flick, a James Blonde tale, if you will. Similarly, I have heard many comparisons to the “John Wick” films as well. Those are bold claims that don’t entirely hold water, but I can see why they are being made.
At a time when there is an alarming debate in the national media about whether the Russians are still the enemy (they are in many ways, by the way), it’s refreshing to see a film that harkens back to a time when the Cold War lines were more deliberately drawn. It makes things easy to frame this story in such a way, even with the possibilities of double agents and betrayal, it’s a simple presentation of governmental good and bad (all in shades of gray).
Charlize Theron is certainly imposing in the role, looking quite convincing as she takes out multiple assassins in one fight scene. She may be a bit ludicrous at times, wearing high heel hooker boots and fishnets, but I suppose that’s nothing more silly than James Bond duking it out in an Armani tuxedo.
In particular, there is an action centerpiece that features a continuous (or rather, edited to be continuous) shot of a spectacular fight sequence and chase scene. Lorraine isn’t impervious to defeat like a character from the “Fast and Furious” movies, but rather she just manages to stay standing and stay alive longer than her adversaries. That offers a bit of humanity to counter the absurdity of the film.
Still, the movie has some problems. First of all, it runs long, feeling like we’re retracing steps and taking too much time behind the iron curtain. For the James Bond comparison, those films work with the many locations and running times north of two hours because they change locations so often. “Atomic Blonde” felt like it simply spent too much time going from hovel to hovel in the Eastern Bloc.
Also, the story – as complicated as it can be at times – collapses under the weight of cliche and predictability. It’s still fun if you can see things coming, but it would have been better to get caught blindsided now and then.
In the end, “Atomic Blonde” is fun to watch and shamelessly set in an R-rated universe. I’m not convinced that this will usurp the Bond franchise at this point, but it’s a nice diversion as we weight for the next one of those to crank through the Hollywood meat grinder.