Atomic Blonde is an easy sell: It’s Charlize Theron in a stylish thriller from one-half of the directing duo behind John Wick. But the first solo directorial effort from David Leitch is a little more James Bond than Blonde Wick — James Blonde, maybe, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s certainly more plot-driven (and at times, slightly convoluted) than John Wick, but no less enjoyable, and though the action scenes are every bit as awesome as you’d hope, it’s not quite the film you might be expecting.
Between Atomic Blonde and John Wick: Chapter 2, it’s pretty clear that Leitch and Chad Stahelski are every bit as talented apart as they are together — even still, comparisons between their intensely great directorial debut and subsequent projects are inevitable. Atomic Blonde holds up under such scrutiny, thanks in no small part to a game performance (and stunt work, of course, because that’s what you’re here for) from a charismatic Theron, who plays an elusive MI-6 spy sent to Berlin to retrieve a list which contains the names of several agents — including herself — that, if leaked, could compromise them all.
Set in the late ’80s, Atomic Blonde opens with iconic footage of President Ronald Reagan calling for the demolition of the Berlin Wall. The opening title cards briefly explain the wall and the era’s political turmoil before informing us, via punk-ish graffiti sprayed across the screen, “This is not that story.”
In one of the most striking cinematic introductions in recent memory, we meet Theron’s Lorraine Broughton, covered in bruises and soaking in an ice bath. She sits on the edge of the tub and plunks ice cubes from her bath into a glass, filling it with Stoli and gulping it down without the slightest wince. If you’ve been waiting for a female 007, she’s here — and she might be even cooler than Bond with all his ridiculous gadgets.