It’s easy to tag Atomic Blonde as this year’s John Wick. From the trailers it would seem that Charlize Theron is wronged and she goes on a Wick-esque rampage to bring street justice to those that deserve it. That certainly plays a part, but this movie is a full on Cold War Era spy thriller. It is filled to the brim with intricate plot twists, character motivations and shifting allegiances. It’s much more than a simple revenge tale, for better or worse.
Where the movie falters is when it gets too bogged down with code names and the he-said-she-said of Cold War espionage. So many names, real and otherwise, are thrown out that it can be hard to follow. Luckily Theron’s goal is always on our minds as she weaves her way through the Wild West that is the two broken Berlins.
Atomic Blonde is also unlike the movies that it is being compared with its restraint with violence. The trailers would make is seem like a blood-fest from beginning to end, but as with any good espionage tale, violence is a last resort. It’s something that only is done when your cover is blown and you need to get out at all costs. But rest assured, there are multiple incredibly well choreographed actions scenes that give you the visceral punch you are looking for. And when the blood starts to flow, oh boy, it doesn’t stop.
I hate to keep bringing up John Wick but they are both R-rated revenge flicks that are drenched in neon. What Keanue Reeves is able to do with a gun is unparalleled in modern cinema. The choreography is so well done and meticulously planned out that at times it feels like he’s dancing with a gun. Neon Blonde doesn’t even try to hit that mark. The violence it portrays, while over the top in parts, is portrayed as very grounded and brutal. Theron knows how to use a gun, but there are point in the film where it a bare knuckle blood bath akin to something closer to The Raid than John Wick. This doesn’t mean either way is better, in fact I think this style of combat it more authentic to the narrative of the film.
Theron is unstoppable, she is so perfect for this role and is so physical in the action scenes that she earns every bit of praise she is getting. If there’s a worthwhile story to be told beyond this, I hope we get to see it.
Rating: **** out of five
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella and John Goodman
Runtime: 1h 55m