Atomic Blonde is an at times embarrassingly enjoyable flashbacking-action-thriller that happily digs up all those pre-Berlin-Wall-falling and perestroika/glasnost clichés but, of course, with a woman in the lead instead of another boring Bond or Bourne.
That woman is, of course, Charlize Theron, who’s already had a big year as the baddie at the heart of the considerably less appealing The Fate Of The Furious, and here signed on as a producer and helped push the film into being, as she certainly knows a sure-fire star vehicle when she sees one. However ludicrous it might be.
Drawn from the graphic novel The Coldest City (by writer Antony Johnston and illustrator Sam Hart), this has ace MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton (Theron) dragged in for tense interrogation by executive Eric Gray (funny Toby Jones) and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (funnier John Goodman) about her mission to Berlin and what went wrong. It’s 1989 and she was meant to assassinate whoever stole a piece of microfilm, and after a ridiculous but rousing sequence where she belts the crap out of a bunch of KGB nasties, she meets up with her main contact in the grey metropolis, David Percival (James McAvoy taking time off from X-Men and Split sequels).
McAvoy, clad in a hideous fur coat, is obviously having a whale of time and provides much grungy humour here, and yet he doesn’t overshadow Theron’s more earnest performance.
Lorraine is eventually forced to protect a Stasi officer named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) who’s trying to get to West Berlin even as the fall of the Wall looms, and we build to a huge, brutal and endless setpiece where she takes on a veritable army of double agents, gunmen and general goons, many of whom kindly line up, in traditional cinematic style, to get thumped. First-time solo director David Leitch was a pro stuntman for years and he stages one particular chunk of this almost sadistically OTT highlight in what appears to be a single shot (but surely isn’t) and in a way that must have used Theron’s body double (although you can’t see the joins). By the end of it the audience is hooting as the star is bleeding and barely able to stand up, and yet the villains still keep coming. Then there’s an added car chase (in reverse) to the tune of — what else? — I Ran by A Flock Of Seagulls.
The rest of the ‘80s soundtrack also provides plenty of kick, with ‘Til Tuesday’s Voices Carry used twice, the English version of Falco’s Der Kommissar popping up, the original German version of Nena’s 99 Luftballons playing over a bit where somebody is beaten to death with a skateboard, and plenty more. And much has also been made of late regarding the casting of the striking Sofia Boutella (The Mummy herself, and a co-star of the Kingsmen films) as Delphine Lasalle, a mysterious character who winds up in bed with Lorraine for a bit of rolling-around. Originally this was a role fulfilled by a bloke in the comic but apparently Leitch, screenwriter Kurt Johnstad and Theron all agreed that making it a woman would be more interesting (read: more promising at the box-office). At any rate, Boutella is almost as good at smashing up the evil dudes as Theron, and she does it with some charmingly animalistic grunting.
You could really hate yourself in the morning for being entertained by this coolly preposterous blockbuster, and you might also feel guilty at being sucked into all those awful, un-PC stereotypes about cruel Germans and ruthless Russians. But, with Trump in the White House, they’re all making a major comeback, and Theron apparently knows that all too well.
Rated MA. Atomic Blonde is in cinemas now