‘Atomic Blonde’ review

‘Atomic Blonde’ cuts through its confusing spy story with killer fights

Atomic Blonde is here from Director David Leitch, who’s also working on Deadpool 2, but is it any good? Find out in our full Atomic Blonde review.

There are some specific marching orders for every frame of Atomic Blonde: Be as cool as possible. On that front, the movie succeeds. It’s gorgeously shot, infused top to bottom with neon, and set to a thundering soundtrack of 1980s pop hits. Rarely a moment goes by that Charlize Theron isn’t on screen in the role of the titular atomic blonde, MI6 super-spy Lorraine Broughton, utterly sizzling as she either wails on Russian KGB agents or smoothly gathers intelligence. Atomic Blonde digs into the spy genre with a sort of glowing, grinning excitement, and that feeling comes through constantly as it works through its story.

And oh, how she absolutely beats on those KGB agents, in some of the year’s best action sequences.

Atomic Blonde digs into the spy genre with a sort of glowing, grinning excitement.

Atomic Blonde’s story, on the other hand, is less exciting. Lots of spy movies get bogged down in overdoing the “spy” part, pushing so hard on intrigue that the plot and characters get lost along the way. The greatest disservice Atomic Blonde does to Theron and the rest of its sharp cast is that it prioritizes style over making them interesting (watch Theron kick ass in the first Atomic Blonde clips). Everyone flutters around playing a single note — cool — and so the movie never really feels like it coalesces around humans you can worry about or root for. And that’s to say nothing for an overabundance of plot that leads to an overabundance of head-scratching by the time the movie’s over.

Though it struggles in the script department, Atomic Blonde has so much else going for it that it’s easy to forgive the shortcomings. You might not really follow what’s going on in Atomic Blonde, but man you will have fun watching it happen.

The plot of Atomic Blonde has British Intelligence dispatching Broughton (Theron) to Berlin in 1989, just as the Cold War is circling the drain. Another British spy has been killed, and a list of allied agents he received from a German defector has fallen into the hands of a Russian bad guy. If that list, apparently made up of all the information about every spy everywhere (I think?) falls into KGB hands, the Cold War could go on forever.

So, Broughton arrives in Berlin, meets up with MI6 agent David Percival (James McAvoy), and goes about trying to figure out where the list wound up and how to get it back. Oh, and there’s also a double agent in MI6 out there somewhere, called Satchel, who’s been feeding intelligence to the Russians. Broughton must figure that out, too.

Atomic Blonde is mostly about Theron’s Broughton darting back and forth from West Berlin to the east, battling KGB agents that always seem to be waiting for her. In actuality, she’s telling the story to her superiors back in London days later, where she’s meant to answer for the aftermath of what happened, it seems. The story ping-pongs back and forth between past and present. It’s confusing.

Atomic Blonde has fights that stand up to anything James Bond or Jason Bourne have endured.

What’s not confusing are the fights. Even from the moment she gets into Berlin, the KGB is after her, and Broughton has to severely beat, shoot, and outdrive agent after agent in some harrowing and awesomely filmed action sequences. Atomic Blonde does a phenomenal job of being fast while discarding the sort of light-touch kung-fu-looking choreography of most modern action movies, resulting in hand-to-hand combat that looks much more punishing (watch this Atomic Blonde trailer to see it). People, including Broughton, get absolutely devastated in fights. They stand up, punch-drunk and wobbling, and go back for more. Every blow looks like it hurts.

Theron, too, delivers her fights scenes (and the driving chase scenes, and the gunplay) with a slick aplomb that sells that her character is very good at this. Atomic Blonde has fights that stand up to anything James Bond or Jason Bourne have endured. Broughton grabs gun-arms and snaps bones in ways that look both like the deployment of years of training and the desperate, close-calls of fights for survival. Atomic Blonde’s action sells its spy thriller better than a lot of the spy stuff.

The story does get lost, though. Though the movie wants to execute double-agent double crosses, there are really only about five characters in total, which isn’t enough.

Atomic Blonde Review

Atomic Blonde winds up trying to be too twisty and clever for its own good. It’s hard to track any real personality traits or motivations in Broughton, Percival, or LaSalle for most the movie, and so it’s hard to feel much investment in the characters or the stakes they’re facing.

Luckily, director David Leitch (formerly a stunt double) puts so much focus on the visuals, the soundtrack, and some phenomenal action sequences. Between things like Broughton’s battle with police using nothing but pots, pans, and a garden hose, and shot after colorful shot glowing with stylish ’80s aesthetic, there’s a ton to love. Atomic Blonde has cool to spare. Just catching some of it is worth the price of admission.

If you’re heading to theaters, you should also check out our Dunkirk review, Spider-Man: Homecoming review, and War for the Planet of the Apes review. We’re big fans of all three of those films. If you’re staying in, check out ourup-to-date Best movies on Netflix list.


Intel answers Qualcomm's new PC processors by pairing Core and Atom in 'Foveros'

Intel has announced a new packaging technology called 'Foveros' that makes it easier for the company to place multiple chips together on one package. That includes chips based on different Intel architectures, like Core and Atom.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this winter with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Killing Eve'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

Best new shows and movies to stream: Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Roma, ‘Sabrina’ special

Need something to watch this weekend? Check out our list of the best new shows and movies to stream right now. On the list this week: Alfonso Cuaron's new film Roma, Jim Henson's classic fantasy The Dark Crystal, and more.

‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ breaks records, ‘Mortal Engines’ sputters

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse webbed up a winning weekend as the top movie in theaters, earning $35.4 million and setting a new record for animated features premiering in December.
Movies & TV

Move over Superman, Aquaman is here to save DC's live-action cinema universe

DC Comics' aquatic superhero Aquaman finally gets his solo feature with Jason Momoa in the title role, and director James Wan's adventure manages to avoid feeling waterlogged while offering up some amazing visuals and intense action.

Amazon Fire Deals: Tablets, TVs, and TV controllers in stock and ready to ship

Last-minute shoppers, and anyone seeking good deals on Amazon Fire products, are in luck. There's still time to order Fire Tablets, Fire TVs, and Fire media players, Fire CVRs, and Alexa-voice-compatible Fire remotes for Christmas delivery.
Home Theater

What’s new on Amazon Prime Video (January 2019)

Amazon Prime Video adds new titles each month that are available for free to all Prime members. Check out our list to find all the content hitting Amazon Prime Video in December 2018 and January 2019, from new original series to classic…
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to endangered cats

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (December 2018)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Home Theater

What’s new on Hulu and what’s leaving in January 2019

Our complete list of what's new on Hulu for January 2019, our personal favorites, and which titles will be removed will help you catch up on all the site has to offer -- and ensure you don't miss any titles heading into the streaming ether.
Movies & TV

‘A League Of Their Own’ and ‘Big’ director Penny Marshall has died

Penny Marshall, the director of A League of Their Own and Big, has died. A groundbreaking filmmaker who paved the way for women behind the camera, Marshall rose to fame as one-half of the starring duo of TV's Laverne and Shirley.