Charlize Theron’s latest action vehicle, Atomic Blonde, oversteers a little in its attempt to escape the limiting description of being “John Wick, but starring Charlize Theron”. Former stuntman and co-director of John Wick, David Leitch, joined by screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (with glowing credit 300: Rise of an Empire to his name), tell the story in flashback and lace it with various twists – it’s fun at first, but later becomes frustrating, as the plot becomes increasingly and needlessly labyrinthine. Atomic Blonde is easily at its best when setting up elaborate ways for Theron’s MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton to punch, kick and stab her way out of a tricky situation.
Leitch and cinematographer Jonathan Sela are, expectedly, very capable behind the camera. Leitch and Sela’s brutal and precise fight scenes have carried over from John Wick – and the much buzzed-about “one-take” fight scene is the standout, as Broughton’s icy demeanour and brutal efficiency is replaced by ferocity in a messy set-piece that may be among the best action of the year. It’s just about enough to distract you from thinking about why any of this is actually happening in the first place.
At the very least, it’s fun to look at. There’s plenty of neon-soaked lighting, cool Cold War set-dressing and a booming ’80s pop soundtrack to accompany it. We also get to meet a couple of interesting characters – the film is completely Theron’s show, but McAvoy’s MI6 operative “gone native” is always compelling to watch, and his unhinged performance is a great counterpoint to Theron’s infinite supply of cool.
Despite lacking the simplicity and weird charm of its predecessor John Wick, Atomic Blonde is still a good time – saved by spectacular fight scenes, a colourful cast of supporting characters, and a great lead in Theron.
CAST: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, John Goodman
DIRECTOR: David Leitch
WRITERS: Kurt Johnstad (screenplay), Antony Johnston (graphic novel series The Coldest City)
SYNOPSIS: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.