The lone hero action adventure is slowly becoming one of the easiest genres to spot a breakout hit. We already know about James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt. But newer films like Jack Reacher, Salt, and John Wick have also been thrilling. On the surface, Atomic Blonde has a seasoned leading lady and an all-star supporting cast, but great action films aren’t built on good acting and interesting concepts alone.
Charlize Theron plays British intelligence agent Lorraine Broughton. In the heart of the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, she is tasked by her superior (Toby Jones) with going into Berlin, Germany and recovering a list of secret government agents that has fallen into the wrong hands after being stolen from her lover (Sam Hargrave). To accomplish this deadly mission, she must link up with a loose cannon British agent (James McAvoy) while also looking over her shoulder at a CIA head (John Goodman) and a mysterious French photographer (Sofia Boutella) who have suspicious motivations.
Director David Leitch got his start orchestrating stunt work for films like V for Vendetta and Fight Club and his mark on this film is evident in every fight scene. The action sequences in Atomic Blonde are all beautifully brutal and intense. Charlize Theron executes each one with keen detail and athleticism that is impressive from start to finish. But even through these thrilling moments, it’s hard not to be distracted by virtually everything else in the movie.
The plot of the film is the biggest problem. There are far too many threads to keep track of. There’s a revenge tale, a double agent subplot, and a race to get a German mole (Eddie Marsan) to safety. So much is revealed without proper context that it’s hard to keep track of what you should actually be focused on.
The double agent subplot takes the most focus, but only toward the latter half of the film. And even that aspect seems squandered. The movie tries so hard to point things in one direction, but the evidence is so staggering toward one culprit that the inevitable twist seems obvious. It doesn’t help that we’re not really given a reason to care about Theron’s character. She is tough as nails and relentless, but her personality is as wooden as they come. Sure, Keanu Reaves’ John Wick was stoic, but he had love for his wife and a puppy to give his character some semblance of a soul.
The story isn’t the only issue. Leitch still seems to be honing his directorial skills. The narrative structure lacks fluidity and the film tries to infuse 80’s pop music throughout, but more times than not it just comes off as overbearing and annoying. The best non-action oriented aspect of the film is clearly McAvoy’s performance, but none of the other actors are given much opportunity to show any nuance. So while Atomic Blonde undoubtedly has some entertainment value, it isn’t anything close to resembling something worth latching on to when the credits role.
FINAL GRADE: C