Set around the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is a British MI6 agent sent to Berlin to retrieve ‘The List’ – a file containing the details of every Russian and British secret agent. The murder of a British spy leads to ‘The List’ falling into the hands of the Russians and Lorraine having to work with fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy) in order to retrieve it.
Director David Leitch has a long history in action films, from his beginnings as a stunt-coordinator to co-directing the Keanu Reeves surprise hit ‘John Wick’ alongside Chad Stahelski. That film was filled to the brim with action and ‘Atomic Blonde’ is no different.
The fights are incredible to watch, with Theron charging through scenes and annihilating everyone in her path, becoming heavily bruised as the film progresses. The fight choreography is filled with the same inventiveness as ‘John Wick’, letting Theron jump from balconies, whipping Stasi agents with a hose and a great early scene where she attacks using a high-heel shoe. Things peak during a thrilling stair-well fight between Lorraine and multiple Russians. The crunching of bones will make you flinch, but it’s impossible to look away.
Everything within the film is stylish. West Berlin is filled with a vibrant neon glow, while East Germany is depicted as grey, cold and desolate. '80s pop songs from the likes of New Order and Depeche Mode fill the soundtrack with throbbing synths. All of the elements work together well, even lending humour to some scenes – as brutal as it was, it’s hard not to chuckle at a young East German being beaten with a skateboard as ’99 Red Balloons’ plays.
As said, the action is brilliant. What lets the film down is the story in between.
Much of the film hits the same beats as every other thriller. There are friends, foes and double-crossings. Betrayals and loyalties should give a film like this thrills, but those are dulled due to their predictability. Actors such as John Goodman, Toby Jones, and James McAvoy work with what they’re given. However, everyone is stripped of a personality and feels barely present.
‘Atomic Blonde’ is a work of style over substance. However, the lack of substance is made up for with a double-shot of style. ‘Atomic Blonde’ isn’t a story to remember, but its neon-haze of inventive hyper-violence is worth a ticket alone.