Officially, the brutish thriller Atomic Blonde takes place in Berlin just before and after the toppling of the Wall, in early November 1989. But this seismic event is really just a backdrop for another epochal marker: the decade that saw the birth of MTV and the height of New German Wave music’s crossover appeal. (Two versions of “99 Luftballons” are included.) A jacked-up jukebox musical with brainings, blood, and bruises, David Leitch’s film, based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel The Coldest City, doesn’t so much advance from one geopolitical subplot to the next as move from pop song to pop song; the coda of George Michael’s “Father Figure” nicely punctuates the demolishing of a half-dozen polizei by Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), a stiletto-fabulous MI6 agent.
First seen emerging from a slipper bathtub filled with ice cubes, Lorraine — her dorsal muscles ripped to perfection, her skin nicked and abraded — is called into British secret-service HQ to detail what went wrong on her mission to take down an espionage ring in the bisected German city. As recounted in flashback, no assignment could ever go right when an alliance must be formed with anticharismatic yap dog James McAvoy, playing Percival, an operative with fluid allegiances. Though this black marketeer unaccountably wakes up with two women in his bed, he never shares one with Lorraine. The peroxided superspy spends the occasional night instead with the far worthier Delphine (Sofia Boutella), a French intelligence officer. Lorraine may be femme in the sheets but she’s always butch in the streets: The most coherent moments of the simultaneously byzantine and dumb Atomic Blonde are its nimbly choreographed fight scenes, episodes that best show off the aloof appeal of Theron, laying waste to Stasi agents (or were they Russians?) with a hot plate.
Directed by David Leitch
Opens July 28
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 26, 2017