It was easy to assume from the marketing that Atomic Blonde was essentially John Wick But A Girl. The fact that it was directed by one half of that film’s team certainly didn’t make that comparison any harder. And while it does share a fair amount of DNA with Keanu Reeves’ second best franchise*, Charlize Theron’s latest is something altogether different. Something much more interesting.
Picture, if you will, a Cold War spy film – something le Carré-ish filled with espionage, tradecraft, double- and triple-crosses. Now replace the grounded, realistic secret agent you’d find there with Daniel Craig’s Bond – and all the brutal violence, cold-blooded revenge and detached womanizing that comes with him. Lastly, replace Craig with a gay Charlize Theron and you’ve got one of my favorite movies so far this year.
Atomic Blonde (based on the fairly unknown graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston) is set in Berlin, the week the Wall fell (but as the film is quick to point out, this is not that story). A list of field agents has gone missing so MI6 sends in Lorraine Broughton (Theron) to retrieve it and the source of the information. She’s told to make contact with David Percival (James McAvoy), the shady Berlin station chief who’s “gone native” for help, but warned not to trust anyone. Anything beyond that is probably giving away too much, though the framing device of Broughton explaining to her superiors just what the hell happened lets you know early on that the mission didn’t exactly go smoothly.
This is a gorgeous film, beautifully shot and stylish as fuck, with a soundtrack to rival Guardians of the Galaxy. And, oh my god, the fight choreography. There is a one-take stairwell fight that puts anything Daredevil‘s done to shame. The action is brutal, close, personal and (unlike so many movies anymore) easy to follow. If you’ve seen John Wick, you know what to expect. It’s not really all that surprising, as David Leitch cut his teeth as a stuntman and stunt coordinator before breaking into directing. I really can’t wait to see what he does with Deadpool 2.
It’s worth pointing out that despite what the early trailers implied, there is surprisingly little male gaze here. Quite the feat in a film with several Charlize Theron nude scenes and a shot of her going down on Sofia Boutella.