Atomic Blonde is David Leitch’s adaptation of the graphic novel The Coldest City by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart, starring Charlize Theron as special agent Lorraine Broughton who is sent into Berlin just prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 in order to recover a list of a highly classified list of secrecy agents as well as uncover a traitor.
Coming from Leitch, one of the co-directors on John Wick, many people had been looking at Atomic Blonde as a potential way to kick-start a big female led action spy franchise in a similar way to John Wick. And there certainly isn’t and problems with Theron as Lorraine. She is obviously a wonderful actress and can handle the dramatic scenes brilliantly, but what may surprise some people is just how good she is with the action side of the role. She really makes you believe that she is both handing out and taking a real beating, and it wouldn’t surprise me of that was the case. Theron definitely seems like the right actress to lead such a franchise. And if they can keep surrounding her with talent such as James McAvoy, who deliciously hams it up as David Percival, Lorraine’s contact in Berlin, as well as John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, and Eddie Marsan then there is certainly enough acting talent behind the film.
The problem with Atomic Blonde though is the story and the script. Right from the start we find out that the story is being told in flashback by Theron’s secret agent meaning that any stakes as the whether she would survive the film are gone. Although that is quickly forgotten as the film descends into a mess of spy film clichés that become so hard to follow. As well as attempting to recover the list of spies and discover who the traitor is, a third objective of extracting an asset from East Berlin gets added halfway through the film. This just means that there are so many threads to follow, any one of which could makes up a whole film on its own (and indeed have all done so many times in the past) that none of them truly end up getting a satisfying conclusion. When you throw in Lorraine’s complicated and potentially hazardous relationships with David Percival, and the French operative in Berlin, it becomes far too much for one film to bear on its own.
Thankfully Atomic Blonde frequently distracts the audience from the bloated and messy plot with its slick and stylistic look, and awesome action sequences. The action is genuinely brutal, and you truly get the sense that Lorraine is truly in some hardcore fights, unlike many action heroes who just feel indestructible. One action sequence in particular, when Lorraine has to extract the asset from East Berlin, is spectacular. It matches up to almost anything in pretty much any other action film from the last few years. It is obvious that Leitch knows how to direct action sequences, and that is the big strength of the film.
This was clearly meant to be a film to kick start a franchise, and it has all of the ingredients in place for a franchise, but ultimately gets let down by Johnstad’s overstuffed script. The action is brilliant and brutal, Theron is excellent in the lead, and the overall look is stylish yet retro. It’s a shame the script wasn’t in place or this really could have been a John Wick style hit.