Is Atomic Blonde the first female 007? That depends on your definition of a 007. Are they hard-hitting, fashionable, lone-wolf British spies? Or are they sex bombs with sweet cars and laser pens? If your definition lines up with the first then yeah, Atomic Blonde kicks ass in Armani. But the closest we get to a laser anything for this British spy is an analogue watch and a push-button phone. Not to mention the sleek, standard, straight off the line, 1989 Volvo with a secret trunk compartment. A car like that would fetch a hefty $3,000 in today’s market. Those stilettos, however…
Being a seasoned super spy isn’t always an easy gig. For this particular mission, Lorraine (Charlize Theron) is sent to east Berlin 10 days before the collapse of the wall to rescue an important list and/or the asset who memorized it. This list holds the names of key allied players in the intelligence game and both sides want it more than anything. From Lorraine’s perspective, she had better either find the list or protect the man who photographed it with his mind before the KGB, or else every allied spy will be compromised. Trusting no one is kind of Lorraine’s shtick, but her agency thinks she would be more efficient under the care of fellow MI-6 agent, Percival (James McAvoy), who’s been in Berlin so long he’s gone native. Percival’s a little left of centre sometimes, but his connections are invaluable to the success of the mission. Can Lorraine trust him, or is it better for her to come at this from her own angle? Considering that she keeps getting set up and sold out, it’s probably best to play this mission close to the pinstriped corset.
For a woman who landed in Berlin with a purse and a carry-on, Lorraine sure has a healthy supply of shoes and sunglasses to make it through the week. I guess that’s what was “sent ahead” of her flight. If only we were all so prepared for those short-notice business trips. But whatever the wardrobe, Lorraine is fluent in violence and seems to manage no matter the knee-highs. Atomic Blonde is another point for the ladies. The KGB doesn’t go soft on Lorraine because her hair is perfect and her cheekbones are divine. They attack with the full force of… the KGB, and Lorraine takes it like a reinforced trampoline. They punch, she feints and punches harder. Atomic Blonde doesn’t fancy-up the fighting; it brings out the full brutality of fisticuffs with a surprise duffel bag of lead pipes. Wham. Lorraine and her opponents have at it until everyone needs a breather, before diving back in with corkscrew weapons. It’s not pretty, but it sure feels genuine.
No one could take it like Charlize Theron. She is one stab victim away from being the new Edward Scissorhands. I am thoroughly impressed with her brutality but also the way she weaves a sense of smouldering disdain into Lorraine’s persona. This spy, like James Bond, is a hard character with layers of secrets, hidden motives, and burnt eyeliner. She’s a tightly bound ball of elastics that does what she does because it gets results. Behind those patented locks and killer wardrobe there is a real mystery, but for the purpose of Atomic Blonde, I’m glad we don’t get the full picture. Why can’t she just be a hard, suave, bite me kind of spy? I imagine Lorraine hasn’t changed a bit since she faced real life on her first day of high school.
Just like Lorraine’s reasoning, the story in Atomic Blonde is a little tricky to follow. Like a Bourne movie there are a lot of names for characters we meet once, or who died and started this whole fiasco. It’s hard to keep track of who did what and which side they did it for. I’ll have to watch Atomic Blonde a second time to really get the full picture. I’m sure it’s all very clever and intricate, with hidden deals and broken ex-lovers, but I was so blinded by the visuals that I can’t really comment on the dialogue. That said, I am very grateful that the movie takes regular breaks and flashes forward to the post-mission wrap-up interview. Having John Goodman jump in and summarize Lorraine’s thought process is a huge assist.
Atomic Blonde is action-packed and bloody, smoothed over by a saucy cover of brilliant fashion and desaturated filters. It’s foe vs. nasty foe and enemies that just won’t let up, no matter how many staircases Lorraine pushes them down. These are KGB agents, after all, not Stormtroopers. The plot was twisty and jumped between alliances and double-crossings so often it was hard to remember which cup the ball was under. For now I give Atomic Blonde a 7/10 because I’m not entirely sure what was going on. But I have a strong feeling that the more I watch it, the more I will learn to like it.