by Paislee House, Film Critic
“Atomic Blonde” is full of exciting action sequences that will inspire viewers to gasp in disbelief as Charlize Theron mows through her enemies. The energy in “Atomic Blonde” is infectious. From the music, to the setting, to the overall style of the film, “Atomic Blonde” is an exciting spy thriller that occasionally falls short of its mission.
The film was directed by one half of the “John Wick” duo, David Leitch — who is also set to direct “Deadpool 2”— and there are definitely similarities between “Atomic Blonde” and Leitch’s first film, but let’s not insult Charlize Theron by calling her the “female John Wick.” “Atomic Blonde” is its own movie and Charlize Theron was practically born to play Lorraine Broughton, the film’s protagonist.
Theron is no stranger to playing strong women in action films, so it probably does not come as a surprise that she excels as MI6 agent Lorraine. As her character demands, Theron is cold, calculating, sensationally smart and an expert in combat. Theron’s “badassness” is further accentuated by Leitch’s direction. Leitch clearly has an eye for choreographed movement.
The fight scenes in the film are fun to watch even when they get gruesome. Though some of the fight scenes draw on action tropes like car crashes and breaking bottles over people’s heads, “Atomic Blonde” keeps a fast enough pace that my eyes were glued to the screen. One sequence in particular, the climax of the action, involves a handful of KGB bad guys, Agent Lorraine and a stairwell. It’s an epic stairwell scene that showcases the power of a one-shot take.
Where “Atomic Blonde” falls short is story progression and length. For the most part, “Atomic Blonde” spins an interesting tale of Cold War espionage set against the backdrop of 1989 Berlin. However, the film doesn’t seem to know when to stop. I’d say the film could have ended roughly 30 minutes before it actually does and it would have been far more compelling in terms of storytelling.
When “Atomic Blonde” ends we’re left with what feels like an overdrawn, trope-filled ending. Though it may be predictable and a bit too long, the film never feels unenjoyable. One of the most enjoyable elements in “Atomic Blonde” is the setting. Being set in a divided Berlin helps the film’s predictable spy plot by adding depth and the splash of recognizable, retro music doesn’t hurt either.
Despite the sometimes sluggish story, Theron is always strong as Lorraine and her costars manage to be just as fun to watch. James McAvoy plays Lorraine’s Berlin contact, David Percival, with his trademark edge and craziness. There are a few close ups that provide the audience with intense views of one of the greatest actors currently working. Then there’s relative newcomer Sofia Boutella who plays the French intelligence agent Delphine Lasalle and a love interest of Lorraine’s.
Boutella holds her own against the acting giants and is able to give a fragile yet hardened performance. Plus, it’s hard to ignore the tryst between Lorraine and Delphine. As your dutiful lesbian film critic, I am pleased to say “Atomic Blonde” has one of the most realistic and non-male-gazey lesbian sex scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie directed by a straight man.
Charlize Theron has long been a Hollywood badass, and “Atomic Blonde” further cements her place on the throne of women who kick ass. “Atomic Blonde” may not be perfect, but it’s an action-packed movie that is sure to keep you entertained.