Charlize Theron could definitely have made a career accepting roles that required her to be gorgeous and not much else. Instead, she’s taken the absolute opposite route, favoring roles that require her to get tough, ugly, and down in the dirt. ATOMIC BLONDE falls into the category of spy thriller that has usually been reserved for men—James Bond, Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt—but Lorraine Broughton (Theron) shows that women can do everything men can…and in high heels.
ATOMIC BLONDE is set in Berlin in 1989, five days before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Like the typical espionage film, there’s a mission, and it’s not always clear who the good guys are. The story is interesting enough, although sometimes confusing, but Broughton had me absolutely captivated. I would have gladly watched hours of her doing almost anything. Theron gives so much life and mystery to this character. Broughton lives on nothing but cigarettes and vodka. She beds the beautiful Delphine LaSalle (Sophia Boutella) not once but twice to get intel. Broughton is smart, distrusting, and unemotional. But most of all, she’s a skilled killer who can kick the ass of anyone who comes at her. One of the things that usually bugs me about women who fight in most movies is that the actress has to rely so heavily on stunt doubles. The fight sequences then become a disorienting array of quick cuts. In ATOMIC BLONDE, Theron is doing most of the fighting. Director David Leitch (co-director of JOHN WICK) used every ounce of Theron’s physical talent. She trained at the same facility as Keanu Reeves (Mr. John Wick himself!), and it shows.
What I loved the most about the action scenes in ATOMIC BLONDE was the absolute realism. Broughton gets punched, tired, and bruised when she fights. She gets hit in the face, and it looks painful. She takes a kick to the gut and goes flying across the room. Broughton might win the fight, but there’s a cost, and she pays it with her body. Broughton has to fight smarter, because she’s physically outmatched by every one of her opponents, which made all of the fight sequences so much more interesting and brutal. The action was nonstop, which was great because some spy films fall into long scenes of talking heads giving hard-to-follow information that weighs down the film until it’s just slow, boring drudgery. ATOMIC BLONDE is so fast paced. There’s never a dull moment.
The film doesn’t solely rely on the action to keep it moving. The look and sound of the film help in creating an allure of coolness. Neon spray paint, punk clothing, mohawks, and hair dye. David Percival (James McAvoy), who plays Broughton’s contact in Berlin, reminded me of a British Tyler Durden. He was just so cool. The soundtrack, filled with 80s punk and new wave classics, is one of the best compilations since PULP FICTION. It never feels like the songs are just laid on top of any scene though. They’re really well integrated. The song Cat People (Putting Out Fire) by David Bowie seemed tailor made for Broughton (obviously it wasn’t), and the movie features hands down the best version of 99 Luftballons (Kaleida) that I’ve ever heard.
It’s hard not to compare ATOMIC BLONDE to the male-dominated films that normally occupy this genre, but I think it would be wrong to call Broughton “the female James Bond.” Without Theron, ATOMIC BLONDE would have probably been a mediocre spy flick, and the fact that it had a female lead could have been dismissed as novelty. But Theron is so much better than that. I think she actually raised the game and has joined the ranks of not only the small and growing group of female action heroes, but also just bad-ass action stars in general. Although ATOMIC BLONDE was based on a one-off graphic novel called “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, I’m hoping so hard for a sequel.