A female Doctor Who may be incoming, but it will likely be years before we see a woman James Bond. I’m betting a non-white male 007 will be first, and even then we’ll probably have a long time to wait, with Daniel Craig apparently hanging around for a while still. If you can’t wait though, right now you can check out Atomic Blonde on the big screen. Lead character Lorraine Broughton, an icy, devastatingly efficient MI6 agent played by Charlize Theron, is the closest you’ll get to a Craig-style Bond… who happens to be a woman.
The problem is that as stylishly and convincingly as Theron battles other spies, downs vodka, dresses up in evening wear and seduces the ladies, Atomic Blonde is a bit of a let-down plot-wise. It tries to make itself feel far more complicated than it really is. And as it twists and turns, and generally convolutes itself, plot holes gape and character inconsistencies appear that are as impossible to ignore as the neon lighting so central to this 80s-set movie and its marketing.
All this said, Atomic Blonde is largely told in flashback, with Lorraine giving her account of events to her supervisors, so let’s backtrack a little.
Loosely based on graphic novel The Coldest City, by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, Atomic Blonde sees Lorraine sent to Berlin in 1989, days before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Cold War. Our aloof heroine must investigate the murder of a British agent. More importantly, she must retrieve what he was carrying – a list containing information on every Allied and Soviet spy working in the region. In the process she is forced to liaise with dubious British station head David Percival (James McAvoy in fun rogue mode).
A big deal is made in Atomic Blonde about betrayal and double-crosses. Lorraine is warned not to trust anyone. Yet she evidently does, repeatedly. Then again, Atomic Blonde’s cast isn’t big enough to really throw anything into question, which leads to a considerable amount of frustration on the viewer’s part. Most of the time you’re ahead of character comprehension. And you tear your hair out when these same characters do obviously stupid things that ignore self-preservation instincts.
For example, Delphine – played with puppy-eyed charm by Sofia Boutella – is a young woman out of her depth in Berlin’s espionage scene. She knows this. She knows she’s at risk. Yet she insists on wearing her earphones while alone at home. Face palm.
To best enjoy Atomic Blonde, it’s best not to think too hard. Also, don’t watch the trailers. Atomic Blonde is a movie optimally experienced with minimal exposure to the preview material as it gives away most of the big action scenes. And that is the primary reason you’ll be watching Atomic Blonde: for its visceral hand-to-hand combat (Charlize did a hefty chunk of her own stunts) and equally exhilarating car chases. The finest of the former – captured in an apparently continuous single 10-minute take – leads directly to the pinnacle of the latter.
For the record, the man behind Atomic Blonde is John Wick co-helmer David Leitch, and he ensures the entire movie is a coherent stunt showcase, set to a pounding soundtrack of period-appropriate Eighties hits. Right now, a double feature of Baby Driver and Atomic Blonde would be an ideal cinema outing for action junkies and music lovers who embrace heavy stylisation.
Anyway, Atomic Blonde is cool, sexy and thrilling in surges. Pity it’s let down by its plot. Still, the film scores extra points for allowing its heroine to appear as unapologetically ruthless, tough and sexual as Bond and many other guy leads of the action espionage genre. Charlize may not be playing Agent 007, but her work here is pretty pioneering nonetheless – doing its bit to broaden female representation onscreen. Lorraine has a heart but not for one second is she made to appear “nice” and conventionally likeable.
Atomic Blonde is flawed, but it could very well see its reputation and influence grow in coming years.
Last Updated: August 18, 2017