Edgy, brutal and achingly stylish, Charlize Theron’s “Atomic Blonde” should be enough to scare the living daylights out of the Bond producers as they continue to pull together the follow-up to SPECTRE.
In cold war 1989 Berlin, in the days leading up to the fall of the wall, a British agent is killed after retrieving a microfilm containing details of every deep cover agent within the Soviet Union. Top MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is dispatched to Berlin to make contact with the local station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) and track down the microfilm. But Berlin is a geopolitical powder keg and as rival factions attempt to get hold of the list, the Cold War starts to heat up.
“John Wick” is an obvious comparison, thanks to the glossy and stylised production and hyper kinetic action sequences but there’s a strong le Carré influence at work as much as there is a “Bond” vibe. Not the Bond of the movies, but the character of Fleming’s originals, especially the Berlin-set short story “The Living Daylights”. It’s a story of deception and counter deception punctuated by sensationally brutal and bruising action sequences which, more than any other spy movie to date, are unafraid to show the physical consequences of every kick, punch and slam.
Theron, now surely the indisputable queen of action after “Mad Max: Fury Road”, “Fast & Furious 8” and this, commits fully to the role as the hard-as-nails Broughton, a hard-drinking, callous and ruthlessly efficient secret agent. Sex, violence, guns and death, this film has it all and everything revolves around Theron’s performance. McAvoy’s David Percival would be the lead character in pretty much any other film but here, he’s effectively Agent Triple-X or Dr Holly Goodhead to Theron’s Bond. Theron’s Broughton may be as close to Fleming’s original creation as we’ve ever had on screen and it’s both thrilling and chilling to watch her manipulate, outfight and seduce whoever is around her, including the naïve French Secret Service Agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), as she single-mindedly keeps her mind on the mission.
Steeped in a darkly romanticised Cold War nostalgia, “Atomic Blonde” suffers a little from an awkward and occasionally intrusive narrative structure as the Berlin mission is relayed as part of a debriefing session at MI6 but it’s in its dazzling set pieces that “Atomic Blonde” will convince you to overlook such shortcomings, especially a stairwell fight scene that pushes Bond, Bourne and even Wick into a scuffle for second place cinematic badassness.
“Atomic Blonde” brilliantly demonstrates the reductive unnecessariness of a ‘female James Bond’. After this, I’m ambivalent about the next Bond movie, but I definitely want more Lorraine Broughton.