Sometimes you can get all the right numbers into an equation and still end up with a slightly wrong answer in the end and that’s sort of the case with hard-hitting action flick Atomic Blonde. It’s got more than enough exceptional fight sequences to put it up there with the likes of John Wick, the setting in Berlin 1989 makes for an excellent backdrop and Charlize Theron is as hard as nails and cool as ice in the lead role, but things just don’t quite come together as well as they could have done.
The story follows British secret agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) as she’s sent into the front line of the East/West divide in Berlin on a mission to retrieve a highly sensitive list with the names of all field operatives on it. Her contact there is the roguish figure of David Percival (James McAvoy), the Berlin station chief, whose unconventional methods have resulted in an element of doubt back in GCHQ. However, it doesn’t take long for the Russians to surface and suddenly all hell breaks loose in the city as unrest starts to set in with the oncoming fall of the Berlin Wall.
Things take a while to build up to the more exciting middle section that works so well in Atomic Blonde. The cut scenes back to the debrief interview of Lorraine following the mission slow things down and give the film it’s saggy start.
Things do eventually hot up, though, featuring everything from a lengthy romantic scene with co-star Sofia Boutella (The Mummy), the most brutal fights you’ll see on the big screen this year – putting John Wick Chapter 2 to shame in the process – and excellent car chases. When it’s good, it’s as good as it gets, and it holds it at that high-octane level of brilliance for large portions of the film. On the down side, that quality means that when things slip, you notice the holes all the more.
For the most part the fight scenes are exemplary, but it looks like the flow has been chopped here and there in the editing suite post production, because every now and again the sequences don’t quite follow with the same level of intensity. At one point Lorraine is thrown through a cinema screen mid way through a gruelling fight with a bunch of KGB gits, but then the next moment she’s managed to elude them miraculously and she’s outside the cinema making her escape.
Luckily, these infrequent transgressions are easily overlooked in the grand scheme of the rest of the film, but the real back heel comes with the lacklustre climax. It just feels like maybe there were a few twists too many in the end and the Yankee Doodle Stoli close-out sticks too much to impress, surprise or convince.
The cast do a pretty good job the rest of the time with Theron (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) leading it all with killer delivery, whether it’s her sub-zero lines or devastating fighting skills. She’s got brutal intensity and you can only imagine the hours she must have put in to prepare for the role. None of the practice shows though, as she’s pretty much faultless throughout.
James McAvoy (X-Men: Apocalypse) does a decent job of playing the unpredictable station chief, and Sofia Boutella works out well in her softer role as French agent Delphine Lasalle. Bill Skarsgård (It) is much less terrifying as Merkel, Lorraine’s CIA contact in East Berlin, than he is as the clown killer of horror in the upcoming Stephen King adaptation.
We expected John Goodman (Kong: Skull Island) and Toby Jones (Dad’s Army) to add weight to the film, but instead they’re a bit incidental. Eddie Marsan (The World’s End), on the other hand, brings solid, down-to-Earth characterisation to Atomic Blonde as Spyglass, the man with the golden list. There’s also some vicious intent from Roland Møller as the main bad guy, Aleksander Bremovych.
Ropey ending, minor holes and a slow start aside, Atomic Blonde is a very well turned out beast of an action flick with relentless fight scenes that deserve the John Wick comparisons. The style and intensity of the film make it work well on the big screen, but it should be one for action film fans to add to to their DVD or Blu-ray collection when it gets its home entertainment release in November.
Atomic Blonde review: 3.5/5