Review: Atomic Blonde

An undercover MI6 agent tries to locate a list of double agents in cold war Berlin in Atomic Blonde. In 1989 Berlin, MI6 operative James Gasciogne is killed by the KGB, who steal a watch containing a microfilm list of every field agent in the Soviet Union. Top agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is assigned by her superior Eric Gray (Toby Jones) to go into Berlin and work with contact David Percival (James McAvoy) recover the list and eliminate an enemy double agent known as Satchel. However, Lorraine quickly realizes that the only one she can truly trust on this mission is herself.

Atomic Blonde is the first solo directorial effort by David Leitch, a former stuntman and uncredited co-director of John Wick. In many ways, it seems like Atomic Blonde was being positioned as a female counterpart of sorts for John Wick, even though this Cold War set spy action-thriller is ultimately a very different type of film.

The plot of Atomic Blonde is framed by a debriefing of a heavily beat-up Lorraine Broughton by her superior Eric Gray and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). Lorraine’s mission in Berlin was made complicated almost immediately when she is made by the KGB. She works with Berlin station chief David Percival to try and find the missing list and protect Soviet defector Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), though she does not know if David can be trusted. In addition, Lorraine makes contact, in more ways than one, with undercover French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), who also provides some assistance.
There are undoubtedly many stylistic similarities between John Wick and Atomic Blonde, but sadly the latter doesn’t really have the same level of substance. It almost seems at times that David Leitch is more concerned with filling the soundtrack of the film with as many 1980s pop hits that he can get a licence for. However, for the most part, the plot and the action of Atomic Blonde comes off as somewhat soulless. The only exception is a very gritty and violence action scene that takes place in an apartment building, which is one of the few set pieces in the film not to feature any music or fancy lighting. I only wish the rest of the film was more like that.
It almost seems that the only real reason Atomic Blonde was structured as an extended flashback was to give Toby Jones and John Goodman something to do in the film. In fact, other than Charlize Theron and James McAvoy, none of the characters in Atomic Blonde really matters that much.
Overall, Atomic Blonde is a quite flawed exercise in style over substance, which seems more concerned about its 1980s soundtrack than being a memorable action spy thriller.

6 / 10 stars

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).