When it seemed like Daniel Craig would walk away from the role of James Bond, fans pondered what it would be like to re-imagine 007 as a female agent played by Charlize Theron. Evidently, somebody drove a dump truck full of money to Craig’s home, but that female Bond franchise has arrived in the form of Atomic Blonde.
Theron is Lorraine Broughton, an MI-6 agent with a predilection for sex, alcohol, and violence. Sound familiar?
The Berlin Wall is on the cusp of collapsing and Broughton is dropped into East Berlin following the death of her former partner, who was betrayed by a double agent known only as Satchel. Broughton’s stern demeanor is in stark contrast to her rough around the edges contact, David Percival (James McAvoy). Percival has gone a bit native, seeing the futility of the Cold War and decided to get a little slice for himself. Together, Broughton and Percival are tasked with hunting down Satchel and protecting a former Stasi agent nicknamed Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), who is attempting to defect to the West. Of course, there’s also a list of undercover operatives about to be sold to the highest bidder. There’s always a list in these spy thrillers. Sofia Boutella is the film’s version of a Bond girl. She takes on the role of Delphine, a young French agent romanced by our lead heroine.
Atomic Blonde is based on the graphic novel, The Coldest City, by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart and adapted to the screen by Kurt Johnstad (300, 300: Rise of an Empire). Blonde mixes dense espionage drama reminiscent of John le Carré with the kinetic action of John Wick courtesy of director David Leitch, who co-directed the first John Wick and is set to helm Deadpool 2. The narrative is full of twists and turns that ultimately lead into a surprisingly simple resolution. Not unlike being spun into disorientation while trying to pin the tail on the donkey. The story unfolds through flashbacks as Broughton is debriefed by Toby Jones and John Goodman as senior agents in MI-6 and the CIA, respectively. James Faulkner also appears as the head of military intelligence, who, true to form, is known only by the letter “C.” While these scenes are well-acted, they do nothing but gum up the works and slows down any forward momentum.
Once we’ve moved out of the cramped interrogation room, Atomic Blonde stretches its limbs as Theron pummels an assortment of goons. Dressed in a striking white pleather coat, she efficiently dispatches a team of East German police officers in order to make her escape from the balcony. The movie builds to an amazing sequence shot to resemble one long take, thanks to some digital enhancement. Broughton engages in brutal hand-to-hand combat with Russian thugs while trying to protect a wounded Spyglass. The fight spills onto the streets and seamlessly transitions into a car chase naturally set to “I Ran” by A Flock of Seagulls.
Though Theron shares screentime with MacAvoy and Boutella, her true co-star is the soundtrack rife with 80’s standards from artists such as David Bowie, Depeche Mode, and New Order. “Der Kommissar” and “99 Luftballoons” are obvious choices due to the German setting.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and a 7.1 DTS-X audio track.
The picture quality is pristine and full of rich details. At times, the cinematography is bathed in an icy blue broken up by the neon lights of a Berlin dance club. The sound is a feast for the ears and not just because of the pop soundtrack and the pulsing score by Tyler Bates. There’s plenty of hard-hitting fisticuffs, car wrecks, and gunfire to keep you on your toes.
The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary track with director David Leitch and editor Elisabet Ronaldsdottir. The pair discuss how a director and editor work hand-in-hand to shape the final product. They also speak about their talented cast, putting together the action sequences, and what changed from the source material.
Welcome to Berlin (4:33) focuses on the locations, production design, and the 1980’s setting.
Blondes Have More Gun (7:01) is a featurette about the action and the training Charlize Theron endured.
Spymaster (4:18) is a brief look at director David Leitch and the visual style he brought to the movie.
Anatomy of a Fight Scene (7:52) is a breakdown of the climatic fight scene with picture-in-picture and audio commentary.
Story in Motion are a pair of animated storyboards with optional commentary from David Leitch.
Rounding out the disc are a collection of six deleted/extended scenes.
Film Value: 8
Despite a few stumbles, Atomic Blonde is a scintillating spy thriller with several intricately constructed action set pieces. If George Miller doesn’t get around to a Furiosa spin-off, I’d be happy to see Charlize Theron in an Atomic Blonde franchise. The series could dip back in time during the height of the Cold War or continue into the 90’s to see how these characters interact in a post-Glasnost world.