Atomic Blonde is the latest in a series of movie-length music videos, this one featuring the synthy sounds and backbeats of the late 1980s. The movie’s action is set in East Berlin right at the cusp of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the script is that of a low-grade Cold War espionage thriller.
The movie features Charlize Theron in the role of “Blonde, James Blonde,” a female incarnation of the invincible British secret agent, only Theron drinks Stoli on ice, no vermouth. We first find her soaking in a tub of ice water with a body full of bumps and bruises and cuts and lacerations (but, remarkably, no broken bones, no limp, no discernible handicap), and then the movie proceeds to show us how she got that way. The film isn’t shy about showing Theron in the buff, beginning with an extended scene of her checking her beaten up body out in the mirror, but also featuring a couple of gratuitous lesbian exchanges.
If you don’t think about it terribly hard, the plot itself is pretty straightforward. Theron sits down in an interview room with her “superior” (Toby James, that round-faced dude from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and American CIA agent (John Goodman). There is also an even more superior boss man watching through the glass that probably signifies something important here, though not important enough for me to try to figure out. Theron then details how she was sent to East Berlin to meet up with a British agent embedded in the terrain (David MacAvoy) and recover some sort of important list that seems to be contained inside some guy’s watch. Meanwhile, a young French agent (Sofia Boutella) is following Theron around taking pictures about as inconspicuously as a fashion model in a skin-tight leather suit riding around on a motorcycle in Communist Eastern Europe could back in those days. Then there are a bunch of Russians and local thugs, and, well, you’ll figure it out.
But, who needs a plot when we’ve got action? And there is plenty of action to go around. Theron survives at least three major car crashes and is in a couple of extended hand-to-hand melees reminiscent of early Apollo Creed-Rocky Balboa bouts (at one point L shouted: “Stay down, kid, stay down”). Indeed, one of those fisticuffs was about three minutes too long, so it turned from drama to comedy as the kids in the back of the theater began to laugh, but it segued into a terrific car chase scene that probably constituted the best few minutes of the movie.
Then again, I’m not sure this movie was even an action movie. It might be better described as a vehicle for Charlize Theron to show off her super awesome self in some super awesome clothing, with her duds even matching the lampshade at one point according to my more fashion-sensitive companion. This was partly utilitarian, as she beat at least one person to death with her shoe. But I was concerned from a narrative standpoint about how she fit an entire wardrobe into such a tiny suitcase. Perhaps she went shopping? But where do you get a screaming red dress in East Berlin in 1989? The questions pile up quickly in this one.
It is also possible that the movie is Theron’s response to getting passed over for the Wonder Woman role — she is definitely gorgeous and she definitely shows her chops as an action hero, even grabbing a bright yellow lasso of justice (a staple in most urban eastern bloc households, for sure) and beating the crap out of a bunch of Commie henchmen at one point. I guess you’d have to ask her.
Overall, over the $5 bar for its excellent music video qualities, but that’s kind of assuming you’ve seen the many high-quality action movies already out this summer – Wonder Woman, Spider Man, Baby Driver, Dunkirk. It also assumes you sit in the theater with the good sound system (e.g., the Marcus SuperScreen DLX) for you to get your 99 Luftballoons on.
When writing this up I learned that this was directed by the guy who got his directorial start with John Wick, and, there it is, I buried the lede. Evidently, he is also directing the second Deadpool movie, so here’s hoping that one goes a little better.