- Emma Simmonds
- 7 August 2017
Charlize Theron plays a kick-ass superspy in a smouldering actioner from David Leitch
'Am I your bitch, now?' growls Charlize Theron's MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, resuming her smackdown of a disrespectful rival. Her gloriously bald retort comes at the climax of a fight that leaves both parties visibly knackered, as the film takes a break from hyper-stylisation to relay the exhausting 'reality' of taking on a building full of foes.
Based on Antony Johnston's graphic novel The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde is drenched – some might say drowned – in comic book cool, while Theron poses like a model and lands blows like a martial arts master. This is the first official directing credit for former stuntman David Leitch, who called the shots on some sequences in John Wick and it exists in the same perma-twilight, the near-monochromatic palette beautifully punctuated by eruptions of glowing, popping neon. Set shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, it makes much of the city's derelict chic, its uneasy mix of hedonism and paranoia, and is flanked by a sometimes predictable but largely pulsating selection of classic tracks and covers.
With events playing out in flashback, Broughton is on the hunt for a list of double-crossing agents which could prove catastrophic to a world trying to climb out of the Cold War. Her contact is fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy) – a sartorial disaster zone who's apparently gone native and is found sporting string vests, stubble and Sinead O'Connor hair. Toby Jones is Broughton's self-described 'superior' listening to how her mission went wrong, John Goodman is the CIA honcho sitting in on the meeting, and Eddie Marsan plays a Stasi defector who has memorised the list.
A piece of graffiti in the superlative screen adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy announced the future, somewhat ironically, to be female, while its men in suits and spectacles conspired. Theron runs with the idea; her wildly sexy superspy is more than a match for the burly henchmen and backstabbers. Though it fetishises her femininity to an almost farcical degree – the actress appears in a selection of outfits that would make Sharon Stone blush – it's a film that holds Theron's sparring ability, flair for espionage and withering looks in as high esteem as her beauty and that gifts her a female love interest in the shape of Sofia Boutella's punky Delphine.
The plot is flagrantly derivative but the attention-to-detail action is immense and, despite its retro setting, it strikes precisely the right note with its fug of cynicism. Even McAvoy doing his cheeky chappy thing fails to lift the film's spirits; he's supposed to be a dick. Sympathies lie with Theron's dead-eyed, long-limbed bad-ass and she's way past caring. Shamelessly smouldering from start to finish and letting its ladies have most of the fun, it's an ace actioner, in perfect tune with our age of disillusionment.
General release from Wed 9 Aug.