In Atomic Blonde, the story based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, Charlize Theron plays MI6’s Lorraine Broughton in a high stakes game of 1980s espionage. Interrogated by two senior officers (John Goodman and Toby Jones), Broughton tells her story retrospectively, as she navigated Berlin and a desperate search for a dangerous list of American and British operatives working undercover in Germany. With James McAvoy as a dangerous MI6 operative Broughton is forced to work with and Eddie Marsdan as an asset named Spyglass, Broughton tries to stay ahead of the dangerously homicidal Russian hunter Aleksander Bremovych (Roland Moller).
Directed by David Leitch (John Wick franchise), Atomic Blonde feels like the movie that would follow in the footsteps of Haywire or Salt, but for all of its eye-popping action, the plot never emotionally connected in a way that I would have expected. There are occasional distractions but they never amount to much, like Sofia Boutella (who is suddenly everywhere in Kingsman, The Mummy, and Star Trek Beyond) playing Broughton’s French spy lover. Unfortunately, it just never adds up to the sensationally emphatic entertainment of a Jason Bourne or James Bond flick.
Fans of John Wick will appreciate the exploration of Leitch’s work, like the way that Berlin became its own character (“Welcome to Berlin”), his work to transform Theron into Broughton (“Blondes Have More Gun”), and the way that he specifically worked the stunts (“Anatomy of a Fight Scene”) and the spy genre (“Spymaster”) to provide the vibe that appears on screen. If you want more than that, there’s his commentary as well.
By the time you reach the conclusion, the who-can-you-trust motif will keep you spinning, as the world of espionage proves it’s not about winning: it’s only about staying alive.