Review: 'Atomic Blonde'

Charlize Theron makes a play at being the female Bond in new spy flick
Charlize Theron plays a super spy in 'Atomic Blonde.' Viewers will have to decide if the film deserves its Bond comparisons.

Watch everyone celebrate Atomic Blonde's Lorraine Broughton (star and co-producer Charlize Theron) as the new Bond, and despair at how little attention people really pay to the Bond films. It's not just all about assassinations and the beat-downs, yes? This vicious, contorted spy film is without the smoother qualities of a Bond flick, movies made for an audience that accepts the old movie euphemisms for sex and violence.

Stuntman turned director David Leith (John Wick) begins on a realistic note. Lorraine is one big hematoma, soaking in a tub full of ice cubes like a football player. It's as much of a display of Theron's bruised nude body, as the establishment of a motif of crystal, ice and clear booze coursing into rock glasses, over the kind of fist-sized ice cubes generally not seen in Europe, 1989. Smokers are shot to look like steam is coming out of their mouths. Except for a few fire-engine red scenes signifying a greater passion than Theron cares to match, everything looks like it was filmed in a walk-in refrigerator and scored with endless needle drops of '80s pop.

The frame is a debriefing at MI-6, where Lorraine's narration starts to get unreliable, Usual Suspects style. Her auditors are CIA beardo John Goodman and Toby Jones—the face of British unwellness—as her immediate superior. She's survived a mess in East Berlin, where she went to investigate the assassination of a colleague. Her contact is an out-of-bounds station head (James McAvoy in an ugly tank top, saying things like, "Berlin is a cruel mistress."). At the bottom of it all is a roster of agents that both Western Europeans and the commies would, and do, kill to get. The love interest is Sofia Boutella as a lamblike French spy; she and Lorraine mix it up in a highly speculative way of how two ladies would get it on.

The much-noted staircase fight, seemingly shot in one long take, is a genuine technical feat. Eddie Marsan gives the film some humanity as a Stasi defector. And there's yet another fight scene at a renowned brutalist movie theater in East Berlin, the Kino International—it's playing everyone's favorite avant-garde jawbreaker, Tarkovsky's Stalker. The theater is one of the few European locations we're actually permitted to look at.

Atomic Blonde
R; 115 Mins.

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