Lorraine is engaged in good old-fashioned spycraft in a world where the only thing you could really trust is your own gun. Against the backdrop of the cold war, her mission is to retrieve a typical McGuffin that threatens to expose an exhaustive list of secret agents.
Sounds simple right? if only the David Leitch left it alone to give the viewers what they want and what this movie needs to succeed.
In fairness, Atomic Blonde does have a charismatic cast, lead by the perfectly cast Charlize Theron. The role is right in her wheelhouse – Lorraine is an enigmatic, commanding, and believably kick-ass spy with an impeccable sense of style. James McAvoy is a great addition next to her – a charming rogue who’s in too deep in his job. The supporting cast also fits well, featuring famous imports and character actors.
Theron is committed to the physical demands of being the Atomic Blonde. The practical action sequences here are realistic and intense. Replacing flash with utility, Lorraine gets as much beating as she inflicts as brutal fights turn into bloody melees where anything can be a weapon, including a key, a hotplate, and a fridge. The best is definitely one long take of Lorraine fighting a couple of Russians in an attempt to secure a “package”.
Unfortunately, these elements, which would have made Atomic Blonde the fun action movie that we’ve all been waiting for Theron to make is sidelined by a needlessly intricate script and the director’s styling.
The plot is essentially a flashback that narrates the story and foreshadows its twists and turns. This sucks the life out of Atomic Blonde and effectively scrubs out what makes spy movies special – the mystery of its circumstances and the ambiguity of its characters. Had the movie trusted its audiences to figure things out – the plot is vapor thin anyway – Theron would have had a chance to kick more ass and create a sympathetic character.
The result is a convoluted plot with disposable one-note characters. On top of this, the director’s focus is directed elsewhere. Instead of giving the audiences more action sequences instead of a measly two, Leitch is preoccupied with creating hyper-stylized compositions of neon-soaked scenes of characters posturing in 80s fashion/decor and making references to its historic period.
So Lorraine always has to watch the news about the Berlin wall and disenfranchised youth on TV in a room perpetually bathed in mood lighting while wearing a vintage top such as a Boy London tee.
In the end – after all the double reversals you can barely count – Atomic Blonde is a well-intentioned but forgettable spy flick whose potential was squandered. If it had only let Lorraine Broughton be Atomic instead of just a platinum Blonde spy trying to squeeze her way out of an investigation, we could have had a fun female lead spy flick with ’80s euro-pop greatest hits.
Atomic Blonde suffers from style over substance as its charismatic cast and well-executed action is sidelined by a needlessly convoluted yet thin plot and fetishistic aesthetics.