‘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.