Atomic Blonde, B-
Rated R, 115 minutes
There's the old saying from the Timex watch commercials, "it takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin." That could be the case for Charlize Theron in the dark new spy thriller "Atomic Blonde:" it's familiar yet brutal fun, in a way sort of a female spy "John Wick." Though it's story, based on an acclaimed graphic novel, is as muddled and messy as some of its fights, its feminist notions are a treat, as it's nice to see a strong, bad-ass female character kick some tail in some of the bloodiest fight scenes of the year.
In 1989, on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the shifting of superpower alliances, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a top-level spy for MI6, is dispatched to Berlin to take down a ruthless espionage ring that has just killed an undercover agent for reasons unknown. She is ordered to cooperate with Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy), and the two form an uneasy alliance, unleashing their full arsenal of skills in pursuing a threat that jeopardizes the West’s entire intelligence operation.
"Atomic Blonde" is directed by David Leitch, who directed the first "John Wick" and the upcoming "Deadpool 2," it's a darkly enjoyable, somewhat over-the-top take on the female spy angle, deftly played by Oscar-winner Theron. The case of who's-spying-on-who has some dry, muddled patches, and if you're not paying close enough attention, you might easily get lost. Based on the graphic spy novel "The Coldest City" by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, Kurt Johnston's script goes in a few too many directions, but there's enough to engage the senses.
First is the stylish score from Tyler Bates, who helmed the memorable music from "The Guardians of the Galaxy" films, fills it with plenty of familiar '80s pop tunes, with everything from David Bowie's "Pressure" to catchy ones such as "99 Luft Balloons" and "I Ran," which will take you back an MTV memory or two. Second, is the extremely brutal and intense but well choreographed fight scenes along with Jonathan Sela's handsome photography, featuring plenty of close-up hand-to-hand battles that made "John Wick" and the "Jason Bourne" films so memorable; without those many well-choreographed scenes, this would be a dull affair, and a confusing one too, given all its twists and turns, especially in the last act.
Theron goes up against "Split's" McAvoy, but it's a battle and relationship that really isn't explored much, and McAvoy's underwritten character isn't given much to do until the final moments of the film. There are a few other unnecessary characters, including "The Mummy's" Sofia Boutella as a fellow spy Lorraine has an affair with, and John Goodman's CIA operative role seems largely an afterthought.
Unsurprisingly, "Atomic Blonde" belongs to the lovely Theron, who shows a tough physicality, holding her own against every man in the film, often emerging as the only one standing, albeit with many battle scars. It's held together by her audacious toughness and those masterful fight scenes, which give the film some heft from an uneven storyline. You've seen this done before, but few could do it better than Theron, who keeps right on tickin'.