Blondes have more guns
Charlize Theron cements her action-star status
Charlize Theron goes on a tear for the ages in Atomic Blonde, another pin on her action-hero lapel after her wild turn as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. Playing Lorraine Broughton—an undercover agent on a mission in Berlin in the late-1980s as The Wall begins to fall—Theron shows she can kick people through walls with the best of them. She also shows how to use a freezer door as a weapon.
Directed by David Leitch (John Wick and next year’s Deadpool 2), Atomic Blonde pops with the same kind of kinetic energy that Wick did when the bullets and kicks started flying. Also a legendary stuntman, Leitch knows how to make a hit look real and choreograph action scenes that stand as some of the year’s best. When Theron lands a blow in this movie, you feel it in your face.
Based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, the film does drag at times, especially when Lorraine does the standard interrogation room scenes with British and American intelligence agents (Toby Jones and John Goodman, respectively) drilling her for answers. While it could’ve used some tightening in the edit room, it’s still worth wading through the shallow parts.
Lorraine tells her story in flashback as she hunts for a list containing info about herself and fellow agents, a list that could continue the Cold War for decades to come. Her hunt includes interactions with unorthodox agent David Percival (James McAvoy), who mixes his espionage with partying and black market Jordache jeans trafficking. Theron and McAvoy are good on screen together, and their dialogue scenes are some of the best that don’t involve teeth getting broken.
As for the bone-crunching action, there’s a scene here that rivals Logan for best action scene of the year. Leitch coordinates a battle that starts in a building and culminates with a car chase as if it were one shot, and it’s an exhaustive exercise in how to keep fighting while falling down stairs, getting shot and getting your face kicked in. If the rest of the movie surrounding that scene (which is also notable for putting George Michael’s “Father Figure” to astonishingly good use) were Theron and McAvoy gardening and sipping herbal teas while listening to a ballgame on the radio, Atomic Blonde would still be worth watching.
McAvoy is having a great year with this and Split, and has moved himself from amusing curio actor to heavy hitter in 2017. He’s a nut in this movie, and proves himself an actor willing to take some risks.
But you don’t go to Atomic Blonde to see McAvoy. This is Theron’s vehicle, and she owns it. An Academy Award-winning actress who can dramatically spar with the best of them, she’s proven she can kick ass as an action star as well. I’m not sure if there’s enough here to warrant a franchise, but there should definitely be more movies with Theron hitting people in the face with freezer doors. Or, just hitting and kicking people in general. She’s quite good at it.