Review: ‘Atomic Blonde’ (cold war knock-down and drag-out)

Other than the subject of spies, this thriller is nothing like James Bond… and that’s a good thing.

In the days prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989, the Cold War was almost over. Operatives in and around both East and West Berlin are trying to recover “the list,” a document that exposes not only agents and their aliases but also many of their deeds, knowledge which could rekindle the Cold War for another 40 years. During a debrief of events, CIA agent Kurzfeld (John Goodman) and British Intelligence officer Gray (Toby Jones) grill MI6 operative Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) over making contact with Percival (James McAvoy) and securing the volatile list… before everything went terribly and horribly wrong.

The advertising for this film revolved around early reviews comparing it proclaiming it to be better than a 007 movie, but that’s all apples and oranges. Other than being about spies, this plays more to as gritty thriller with a stylized late-1980s aesthetic and soundtrack to match, not to mention some of the most brutal hand-to-hand fight scenes this side of John Wick but with far less gun play. While Charlize Theron has been praised for her willingness to be as ugly and physical as a role demands, is there an audience for spy film whose heroine takes as much damage as she dishes out?

Based upon the 2012 graphic novel “The Coldest City,” it’s the directorial debut for David Leitch, a producer on John Wick and reportedly an uncredited co-director of that film. Small wonder; it has a similar level of mortality but with a far more complex plot. Atomic Blonde is a thinking-person’s action flick, with survival a priority at every turn while all the players are manipulating each other into thinking their opponents are ahead of the game. By the time the credits roll, you’ll believe Theron was born to play her part.

The film boasts an all-star cast, from Toby Jones to John Goodman and even “Ray Donovan’s” Eddie Marsan as Spyglass. If French operative Delphine looks familiar, that because Sofia Boutella is having a good couple of years, from being the best part of Tom Cruise’s The Mummy reboot to Sam Jackson’s blade-legged henchman in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Opposite Theron, however, James McAvoy proves himself a chameleon again as a career spy watching his world fall apart, as eager to save it as he is to light the match.

1989 Berlin is portrayed as a character unto itself, from cold gray skies and concrete walls to neon-framed interiors set to a perfect cut of the music of the time. While it didn’t do huge box office numbers, its modest $30 million budget was recouped and then some; Theron herself has suggested a sequel is in development. With a near-perfect ending, can it be a continuation or will it have to be a prequel? Fingers crossed either way!

Atomic Blonde is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, some sexuality/nudity, and the hits that just keep on coming.

Four skull recommendation out of four

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