To be honest, I have no desire to see Charlize Theron as Jane Bond. It’s not that I have a great affection for James (he’s okay). It’s just that with something like Atomic Blonde as evidence of what she can do as an action film star, Theron doesn’t need to attach herself to an aging, largely insufferable franchise. Quite frankly, she’s way too cool for that.
If we absolutely must discuss this film (and seemingly all others in existence) in terms of future installments, Theron is more than capable of supporting a series of spy movies on her own. Atomic Blonde is a flawless showcase for her steely action hero charisma, and for the fact that she can hand out a nicely-choreographed beating to nameless bad guys as well as anyone of any gender. If those are your two main reasons for wanting to see Atomic Blonde, you’re in luck. The film is a little lackluster in certain important areas (like the story itself). However, Theron is such a phenomenal presence as Lorraine Broughton, there’s a very good chance that you’re not going to give a single damn about the movie’s weaker points.
Atomic Blonde is the second film directed by David Leitch. Technically, it’s his first film in which he is actually being credited (he is uncredited for his work on the first John Wick). Keeping that in mind, Atomic Blonde is a certainly a logical progression for Leitch. Adapted from a 2012 graphic novel entitled The Coldest City by Sam Hart and Antony Johnston, the movie is pure stylized violence. There is a plot, involving a British spy (Theron) coming to Berlin to track down a list of double agents being brought into the West, in the final moments preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall. As spy movie plots go, Atomic Blonde benefits from being extremely straightforward. I missed the first five minutes of the press screening that was held at Manhattan’s AMC Empire 25. More often than not, losing five minutes of a spy movie, even at the beginning, can put you on a weird, annoying footing. Atomic Blonde is so straightforward in its story, missing five minutes didn’t mean anything.
The simplicity of Blonde’s story might be a little disheartening to those who want a story that matches the vibrant period soundtrack, gorgeous shots of late 80s aesthetics with 21st century fetishism for said aesthetics (which isn’t as bad as it sounds), and absolutely brutal fight sequences. Still, all of those elements are so intensely enjoyable, I don’t think the plot is really going to bother you all that much. The movie certainly doesn’t pretend to be more complex than it actually is, which is refreshing. The story really just gets us from one fight scene to the next. Occasionally, the story exists to take us from one Charlize-Theron-being-world-weary-and-hesitant-to-be-connected-to-another-human-being moment to the next, which also tend to be enjoyable.
The movie offers very little else than Charlize Theron being a badass, James McAvoy being a charming bastard, the aesthetics, and the fight scene. The dialog is often bland, although the exposition-heavy scenes between John Goodman, Theron, and Toby Jones are naturally delightful. We don’t always think of the cast with a movie like this, where other aspects of its DNA are generally given more attention. We should.
Theron is the crucial core of this movie, but everyone in Atomic Blonde is important. A lesser cast would have contributed to this movie sinking like a stone. Style can only take you but so far (then again, you may want to pull Zack Snyder out from under of his mountain of money, and ask him about that), but Atomic Blonde’s visual sensibilities and spectacular, gritty fight scenes receive strong support from a cast that plays the various notes of this film’s tone, dialog, and pace to perfection. This isn’t the first thing you’ll think about with this movie. That’s fair. Keep it in mind all the same.
While the days of non-franchise films supported by a single star may be more or less over (this time, talk to Melissa McCarthy about being a significant exception to that), casting is still crucial. Atomic Blonde is fun, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without Theron, McAvoy, and the rest. Their contributions help create one of the season’s better outings.