Charlize Theron climbed the action mountain with her superlative role in the sublime Mad Max: Fury road and now she’s returned to the genre with John Wick co-director David Leitch with the brutal Atomic Blonde, a violent spy movie set in Berlin on the eve of the Berlin Wall coming down.
It’s a nifty set up, beautifully shot and acted confidently by a great cast but for the most part Atomic Blonde seems to be missing an isotope or two.
Theron’s frosty accented spook enters a divided country in turmoil to nab a list of names from an operative named “Spyglass”, her contact, Percival (a deranged James McAvoy behaving like he’s still in Filth) has gone native and the KGB are onto her almost instantly. All she has to back her up is her looks, a killer soundtrack and fighting skills that would (and does) stagger men twice her size.
If there’s an immediate problem with Atomic Blonde it’s that it’s plot simply isn’t as engrossing as it thinks it is, the set up takes ages and bounces back and forth between the mission and final report to rather dulling effect. In fact I was ready to write this off as another over-stylistically pose fest until an utterly devastating action scene which deals with Theron desperately dispatching barrel chested thugs while absorbing the amount of bloody punishment that would make a Terminator lose a step or two. As the bruising scene spills from a flight of stairs to a room, back down the stairs, into the street and then picks up as a car chase, it pumps renewed life into the film and you finally get what the film makers were going for. It stands as a serious contender as action scene of the year. It’s just a shame the movie didn’t play it’s action hand sooner. In fact the last third plays a little like Angelina Jolie’s underrated spy vehicle Salt (think not so much Salt as Assault) only drenched in neon and a liberal amounts of O negative and it’s pretty damn fun.
Everyone in the film is great (extra points for Sofia Boutella who seems to building herself quite the resumé of character roles over the last few years) and an amazing soundtrack which means there’s plenty to love here, it’s just not a John Wick beater.
Theron has cemented her place in the action hero pantheon standing proudly alongside Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton, Mila Jovavich and even Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight and needs to keep at it as she really is fucking good at pounding dudes into jelly.
David Leitch’s directing career has a glittering future ahead of it. He can mount an action scene like no other and his movies are gorgeously handsome to look at, once he nails the plot he’ll undoubtedly have it made.