Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde Is A Brainier, More Brutal John Wick
In 1989, East Berlin was still the kind of place where you could be beat senseless by a Stasi officer with your own skateboard for breakdancing in public—or at least that’s the backdrop director David Leitch has created for his Cold War-era spy versus spy versus spy action flick, Atomic Blonde.
Shot in Budapest and Berlin, the movie stars Charlize Theron as MI6 badass Lorraine Broughton, whose current mission impossible requires her to navigate the destabilized border between East and West Berlin in order to extract a sensitive dossier that threatens to expose a slew of undercover agents.
Teamed with an embedded fellow MI6’er (and disciple of Niccolò Machiavelli) played by James McAvoy, Theron’s character chases down mostly Soviet bad guys in a race to retrieve the file before it’s auctioned off to the highest, most dangerous bidder. In doing so, she both doles out and is subjected to some serious ass-kicking (she attends to her various injuries with ice baths and bottles of Latvian vodka).
Leitch, who’s been hired to direct the Deadpool follow-up, gives action fans a lot to love about this movie, which is based on the graphic novel, The Coldest City. The pacing is close to perfect, the twists you’d expect from any good spy movie are there, and the fight scenes feature long, well-choreographed takes (a credit to both Theron’s skills and Leitch’s Jean-Claude Van Damme stunt double background). One dust-up, which spans about eight minutes and takes place in an East German apartment block, features Theron and a bleach-blonde thug duking it out until both of them are staggering around a destroyed sitting room like a pair of punch-drunk boxers. There’s no referee in sight.
Stylistically, the movie is more music video than period piece. Some of Theron’s off-the-shoulder sweaters are a bit too on the nose. But the soundtrack is great (expect lots of Bowie, Queen, some George Michael, Re-Flex’s ‘The Politics of Dancing’, and, obviously, Falco’s ‘Der Kommissar’). One unexpected and highly enjoyable scene involves a foot chase that ends in Theron and her pursuers crashing around a movie theatre during a screening of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker.
Is Atomic Blonde on par with Leitch’s previous action movie, John Wick? Absolutely. Only instead of a sad assassin, we’ve got a sarcastic spy. Complaints? Criticisms? We have a few. Namely, why are female action heroes still required to take off their clothes to get the job done? One of the best things about the Wick movies is that despite its star’s conventionally attractive face and well-maintained physique (dude does not age), Reeves is not required to repeatedly disrobe for the role. Also: there’s no Wick love interest to detract from the pencil stabbings and corkscrew eye-gougings. The two movies invite obvious comparisons, but you can’t measure one against the other without noticing the differences in the way their male and female protagonists are treated.
Atomic Blonde, which also stars John Goodman and Sofia Boutella, throat-punches its way into theatres July 28. Check out the trailer below: