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Atomic Blonde - Review

Atomic Blonde

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

CHARLIZE Theron seems to be blazing her own trail for female action heroes of late, having leant her skills to the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road and Fast & Furious 8 over the past couple of years to eye-catching effect. Now, she deservedly gets her own vehicle with Atomic Blonde and grasps the opportunity in similarly impressive fashion.

Adapted from the graphic novel The Coldest City, and directed by David Leitch (of John Wick fame), Atomic Blonde is a Cold War spy thriller (and kick-fest) that takes its cues from the likes of Bourne, Bond and Tony Scott’s Spy Game.

Yet it delivers the action on its own terms, opting for a self-consciously stylistic approach that, admittedly, negates some of the film’s substance.

Hence, while benchmark setters such as the Bourne franchise artfully marry game-changing action with intelligent, emotionally compelling storytelling, Atomic Blonde prefers instead to deliver the thrills without so much of the complexity.

There are twists galore, of course, but their impact is softened by Leitch’s decision to ramp up the soundtrack at every opportunity, thereby setting impressive fight choreography to ’80s cuts from the likes of New Order (Blue Monday), David Bowie (Cat People (Putting Out Fire), George Michael (Father Figure) and 99 Red Balloons. In that regard, it has more in common with this year’s Baby Driver without the same ingenuity or heart.

Theron plays MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton who is sent to Berlin following the death of her former lover (Sam Hargrave) at the hands of a KGB agent in order to retrieve a priceless dossier and uncover a potential double agent.

Once there, however, she must contend with a roguish fellow spy and contact named Percival (James McAvoy), a naïve French agent named Delphine (Sofia Boutella) and a missing asset (Eddie Marsan), while attempting to keep one step ahead of the many people who want her dead.

In approaching Atomic Blonde, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a major step forward for female empowerment given that its one of the first successful spy films to feature a woman front and centre. But while there is progress, the film also plays like a male fantasy version of a female empowerment movie at times.

The first shot of Theron, for instance, finds her naked in a bath-tub (and revealing far more than most male spies), while there’s also a lesbian romance that’s super sexed up. Theron, for her part, throws herself into everything and truly inhabits the role of Broughton, from the kick-ass action to the outfoxing of her peers.

Atomic Blonde

She’s ice cold and remorseless when she needs to be, impenetrable when it comes to feeding back to her possibly untrustworthy colleagues and superiors, and yet capable of fleeting moments of vulnerability and compassion. It’s the type of performance that arguably deserves more room to flesh things out, occasionally being blunted by the over-stylised nature of the endeavour as a whole.

But then genre fans probably won’t mind a jot. If Atomic Blonde can’t reach the 5-star status of the best spy thrillers, it still has plenty in its own armoury to make it fantastically enjoyable, including one particular fight sequence that begins on a staircase that will undoubtedly be held up as an all-time classic of its kind (rivalling the choreography and bone-crunching nature of Gareth Evans’ The Raid sequences).

It also has an impressive ensemble, with McAvoy revelling in the opportunity to go batshit crazy again (a la Filth), Boutella adding a sexy and surprisingly vulnerable new addition to an increasingly impressive action CV of her own, and the likes of John Goodman, Toby Jones and Eddie Marsan all making their mark in some way.

Leitch, for his part, builds on a rapidly growing reputation as an action director of the highest calibre (it’s Deadpool 2 next for him), while the fast-moving nature of the film as a whole gives it a breathless energy that’s thrilling in its own kind of way.

Hence, while lacking in the finesse of the best genre entries, occasionally muddled and nowhere near as feminist as it should have been, Atomic Blonde still emerges – battered and bruised – as a tremendously entertaining action-adventure that deserves to kick-start its own franchise.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 55mins
UK Release Date: August 11, 2017