On the heels of the wildly successful John Wick series is Atomic Blonde, a film that borrows from that winning template to make an actioner in which the lead is a woman. Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, Bill Skarsgård, Sam Hargrave, Jóhannes Jóhannesson and Til Schweiger, director David Leitch put forth a feature which has some of the most incredible action set pieces this year. That being said, something is missing from this spy thriller which successfully posits Theron as one of the biggest buttkickers around.

In order to give some perspective to this $30 million production, Blonde is a hybrid of John Wick, James Bond and Jason Bourne, and comes with enough neon lighting to illuminate a metropolis. It’s also set in the 80’s, right before the Berlin Wall is about to come down, so Cold War vibes are evident. Theron is Lorraine Broughtan, an MI6 spy who’s been tasked to recover microfilm which names every spy working out in the field. This microfilm, known as the List, was stolen from another MI6 agent, James Gascoigne (Hargrave), after James was murdered by Yuri Bahktin (Jóhannesson), a KGB agent. All of this takes place in East Berlin, and Lorraine quickly discovers she cannot trust anyone, including her East Berlin contact, fellow MI6 agent David Percival (McAvoy). Things go from crazy to insane, with Leitch and screenwriter Kurt Johnstad including plenty of twists and turns which should have audiences guessing until the final scene.

Since Leitch co-directed John Wick, and he has experience as a stuntman and stunt coordinator, he has quickly inserted himself as a fantastic action guru. Thanks to his experience Blonde’s action is unparalleled; all while Leitch keeps his action grounded and honest. Its best action set piece is an impressive long camera take which pits Broughton against a handful of baddies in a stairwell. It’s up there with the famous hallway fight scene in the original Oldboy and is truly memorable.

In addition, the 80’s setting is a welcome sight that brings viewers to a forgotten world. Leitch added authenticity to the setting by using songs which originated from that time frame (New Order, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, George Michael, Til Tuesday, The Clash - impressive). The music combined with the visuals gave Atomic Blonde the look and feel of a music video. And although Leitch’s visuals are slick and bright, they are also hazy and murky - an interesting combination which is intentional. Whether that will be accepted by viewers remains to be seen because despite the lovely visuals and music, there are issues.

Those issues stem from the story. Since we’re dealing with spy stuff and high espionage it’s expected that the plot be complicated. But Blonde is more complex than it needs to be (compared to the simplicity of John Wick). Lying comes with the territory when one is a spy, but because of that seemingly every character has a hidden agenda and almost everyone is borderline unlikable. At times I found myself not caring about anyone, including Lorraine, much of the story is told with flashbacks and only from her perspective.

I liked Johnstad’s approach to Lorraine, though – he wrote her as a man. All Leitch did was cast Theron in an momentous effort to prove women can do anything men can do, all while doing it with more style, panache and grit than their male counterparts. And since Theron’s love interest is Sofia Boutella (as Delphine Lasalle), we witness a same-sex relationship in a mainstream film.

Other than that, the writing is… okay. Blonde displays many of the same spy genre tropes as 007 and Bourne, there are too many plot twists, yet (if you pay attention) you can figure out who Lorraine, Percival and Delphine really are. That took away from the outstanding action, but since that is the main attraction its writing deficiencies are somewhat forgivable. There are attempts at humor, so it seems the production knows the ridiculousness of it all, but it’s not funny enough for me to buy into that notion. Regardless, Atomic Blonde is entertaining and delivers with its fantastic set pieces.

3.5 stars out of 5


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