Image courtesy of Focus Features
In, “Atomic Blonde,” Charlize Theron is Lorraine Broughton, whom might as well be the female counterpart to Keanu Reeves in “John Wick” - (gosh what a fun crossover that would be). In fact, director David Leitch borrows from that hypercaffeinated style of filmmaking, as he should considering his extensive background includes stunt work dating back to David Fincher’s “Fight Club.” And now he, much like the same director of ‘Wick.’ have made the upgrade to full length feature. Theron has stepped back in the spotlight as of late, turning in a villainous role in this year’s smash “The Fate Of The Furious” and has shown her action chops before with the poorly executed “Aeon Flux.” “Blonde” proves to be a fun vehicle for her, and this is her show, but Kurt Johnstad’s screenplay rarely puts human element into this mindless noir type-action extravaganza. Mindless violence only goes so far, sooner or later we need to care about what’s actually happening and, more importantly, whose ass is being kicked and why.
What made “John Wick” so good is because it has a sub-genre standard of rules: a code of conduct that all assassin's must follow. Silly as it maybe, it’s the type of juice that fuels an otherwise lifeless knuckle fest. And that almost happens here, except when the blood is flying it’s so ultrasmooth and well choreographed it propels “Blonde” above a level of decency.
Proving that she can still headline as an action heroine, Theron tackles, knives, slits, stabs, shoots - (just about anything really) - as Broughton. A covert MI6 agent of the English crown tasked with recovering trade secrets amongst some baddies on the west end of Berlin. The film takes a backseat approach, a reverse chronology with Broughton sitting at the end of an integration table, spilling her story (or delivering it with loud whispers) as the movie moves along. She has a black eye, her arms covered in blood, and we instantly get the idea this women has been to hell. It sets up the rest of the story, which takes place in the late 80s, when Ronald Reagan increased tensions to bring down the Berlin Wall, but we are quickly reminded “This is not that story.”
No, “Atomic Blonde,” is based on a graphic novel in the same vein and Broughton is taken undercover to understand the whereabouts of “Spyglass” (Eddie Marsan) a government weapon who has a list of double agents that proves to be extremely viable to anyone who is looking for it. As a routine, Broughton gets paired up with low-life David Percival (James McAvoy) a man with deep undercover ties, waiting for his ticket home. As all movies about double crossing goes, there is plenty of it in “Blonde,” almost too much.
While the plot itself is a driving force behind the action, it sure takes it’s time getting there. In the earlier scenes where Broughton is talking with two investigators (John Goodmen and Toby Jones) I almost couldn’t take it. Luckily, once the film spirals into the main action set pieces, it jolts to life as well. Sadly, the script almost tries too hard not to make you care about anybody. The whole immoral anti-hero analogy takes some getting used too, and for that purpose alone “Atomic Blonde” does exactly what it wants.
As for the stunts, they are top notch. The best sequence comes towards the start of the third act when Broughton has to warn off a herd of goons while protecting Spyglass. She takes beating after beating, but in her path she knocks down every big swinger along the way. The tension is even more amplified by the cosmetic sounds heightened in the score. “Atomic Blonde” has a good mixture of electronic pop, with the classic oldies like “Under Pressure” and “99 Balloons.” Hearing the sounds of “ahhhs” and “ouch” from the theater are good indications of what you are in for. And no household appliance is off limits.
Other than that, there really isn’t much more to report on “Blonde.” it’s a stylistic film with high ambitions for sure, and if you look closely at the color palette or lush visuals, you really get the sense and vibe of Berlin at the height of the Cold War.
But the truth for “Blonde” is written on the table, it’s sadly coming off the heels of action films vying for the same type of glory. It’s almost an overkill at this point, so in order for the end result to work their had to be something we haven’t seen yet. And, notwithstanding, Theron is that type of hero we need right now. Because when you’re not shaking your head at her glass-crunching gymnastics you’re taking in the atmosphere and her posture. As self-serving and smooth as Bond, as physically daunting and stoic as Wick, Broughton is a character that is confidently equipped to join the ranks and legacies of great modern day action heroes. B