Title: Atomic Blonde
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
FBI Agent: "Most people write letters to movie stars. This Simpson guy writes letters to movies: 'Dear Die Hard, you rock. Especially when that guy was on the roof.'"
Brief Plot Synopsis: World's least inconspicuous spy traverses '80s Berlin, leaving sartorially challenged bodies in her wake.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Three and a half Nuclear Men out of five.
Better Tagline: "Who's the blonde in MI6 who's a sex machine and loves to kick?"
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: It's the end of the world as we know it (otherwise known as November, 1989) in Berlin, and MI6 agent James Gascoigne has just been murdered by a rogue KGB operative. Gascoigne was carrying a list of agent identities that, were it to fall into the wrong hands, could jeopardize the West's intelligence efforts. Ten days later, we know *something* bad happened, because agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) looks like she's gone ten rounds in the octagon. Worse, she's being debriefed in an unkindly way by both her superior, Eric Gray (Toby Jones), and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). Of keen interest: What happened between Broughton and MI6 Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy)?
"Critical" Analysis: There have been halting attempts by Hollywood at kickstarting a female secret agent franchise before. The Long Kiss Goodnight was a modest box-office success, while Colombiana and Salt — starring future Gamora Zoe Saldana and Angeline Jolie, respectively — never connected with audiences. And then there was that 007 spinoff with Halle Berry, sunk by the most sinister cinematic foe of all: creative differences.
So if your reaction to the marketing blitzkrieg and full-court studio press behind Atomic Blonde is, "It's about damn time," you're not alone. Riding the popularity of both Charlize Theron (who cemented her action bona fides in Mad Max: Fury Road) and director David Leitch (uncredited co-helmer of sleeper shoot-em-up John Wick), this Cold War period piece arrives to much anticipation.
How well it lives up to that is another story. The fight choreography is superb, and very much in the brutally improvisational spirit of the Wick movies, the soundtrack (Mode! Bowie! *Two* versions of "99 Luftballons!") effectively conjures the era (with many songs cleverly speaking to the events at hand), and Theron's icy lethality is as enjoyable as McAvoy's atavistic "gone native" station chief.
Unfortunately, it's the story that doesn't entirely hold up. Why is the fallback option for espionage plots always a master list of secret agents? Why pair one of the most sought-after actresses of her generation with the "It" director for violence and shackle them with a plot straight out of the Mission: Impossible franchise? Broughton is the closest we've yet come to a female James Bond; surely she deserves a Blofeld (or, hell, a Hugo Drax) of her own.
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The spectre (heh) of Britain's most famous operative obviously looms large, his influence showing most pointedly in the relationship between Lorraine and "Broughton girl" Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), the consummation of which is decidedly more explicit than anything we've seen yet in other spy franchises. Titillating, yes, but also a more sobering reminder of what is often required to get a movie like this made.
Most of this is outweighed by the inspired violence and sumptuous visuals on display, however. Broughton takes on her adversaries with a high heel, ropes and even a hot plate at one point. And to paraphrase another Bond character, Theron and Leitch really make you feel it. The accumulated damage from a half-dozen brawls takes its toll, and by the end Broughton is so battered that Atomic Blonde could be a Die Hard sequel.
One of the good ones. Where McClane still drops the F-bomb constantly.
So while maybe assigning a statuesque platinum blond to deep cover ops isn't the best idea, and while the "tradecraft" is far from subtle (more Jason Bourne than John Le Carré), and while...wasn't that a Tito's Vodka bottle on a table in late-'80s Berlin? Atomic Blonde is still good, stylish fun.