Trying like a cross between Debbie Harry and a Nagel print, Charlize Theron struts her manner by the Chilly Warfare howler Atomic Blonde dressed to the proverbial nines, in white pleather raincoats, tailor-made herringbone wool, and a lethal pair of pink stiletto heels, usually caressing a cigarette between her fingers. She additionally will get the shit kicked out of her; it appears no feminine motion hero has taken as many punches to the mouth and eye socket or crawled out of a struggle wanting worse than Theron’s Lorraine Broughton. She’s a British spy despatched to West Berlin in 1989, simply days earlier than the collapse of the Berlin Wall, although the precise plot of the film is nearly indecipherable: some junk a few McGuffin, a Stasi defector nicknamed “Spyglass” (Eddie Marsan), and a double agent. However it’s not like that issues. Atomic Blonde is a meaningless fetish piece of aesthetic extremes—grotesque accidents, mirrored neon décors which can be like one thing out of a Nicolas Winding Refn film, and sufficient references for a small encyclopedia—and it’s the handiwork of David Leitch, who made the deliciously absurd John Wick with Chad Stahelski. Primarily based on the proof of this movie and Stahelski’s even stranger John Wick: Chapter 2, which hit theaters earlier this yr, one would possibly conclude that Stahelski introduced the outlandishness to their collectively directed debut characteristic and Leitch introduced the cool.
The cloak-and-dagger intrigue (which, once more, borders on the impossible-to-follow) kicks off with a British agent being offed by a KGB goon to New Order’s “Blue Monday,” his corpse dumped into the icy waters of the Spree—which cuts to Lorraine dunking her bruised physique right into a claw-foot tub crammed with ice, then palming just a few of the ice cubes right into a glass of Stoli. It’s that type of film. In a debriefing room at MI-6, she narrates the occasions of the previous week to a British handler (Toby Jones) and a visitor from the CIA (John Goodman): She is distributed to West Berlin to get well a listing of Western brokers referred to as, er, “the Record”; makes contact with the punk-rock native station chief, Percival (James McAvoy), who has a aspect enterprise promoting Jordache denims to East Berliners; stabs thugs at a screening of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker; and has a fling with a rookie French intelligence agent, Delphine (Sofia Boutella). (Their gratuitous intercourse scene units up certainly one of Atomic Blonde’s funnier gag cuts.) Lorraine is a fantasy object—a statuesque Barbie-blond who fucks lovely ladies when she isn’t fucking up ugly, cauliflower-eared Soviet henchmen—and Theron owns it. She purrs each line and relishes each alternative to crack her neck whereas reclining right into a leather-based chair.
Like John Wick earlier than it, Atomic Blonde is ready in a vacuum, a wacky pastiche of fashions, needle drops (“Voices Carry,” “Combat The Energy,” “Behind The Wheel,” and so forth., and so forth.), out-of-context arthouse shout-outs (together with a cameo from onetime Rainer Werner Fassbinder common Barbara Sukowa), and retro cheese, topped off by a minimize to a classic clip of MTV’s Kurt Loder segueing from protection of the autumn of the Berlin Wall to a particular report on sampling. (“Is it artwork or is it simply plagiarism?”) All the subtitles for the German dialogue are printed to look period-appropriate, to quote an instance of Leitch’s obsessiveness. If it weren’t so divorced from actuality—or if the viewer have been requested to offer a crap about any of the characters—the violence may appear horrifying. However whether or not it’s an opponent who refuses to cease preventing after getting stabbed within the face (there’s lots of stabbing in Atomic Blonde) or a policeman with a hose round his neck getting used as a counterweight in certainly one of Lorraine’s escapes, Leitch performs it for black comedy. That is very true of the climactic set piece, a deranged, mind-bogglingly lengthy Kids Of Males-style super-take during which our heroine fights a small group of KGB brokers down the staircases, into the residing rooms, and thru the partitions of an East Berlin condominium constructing, earlier than making off in a crowd-plowing automobile chase and shoot-out—all directed with the cuts hidden by digital trickery.
This may be fairly enjoyable, but additionally tiring in stretches; Leitch’s fetishistic curiosity in garments, scar tissue, furnishings, and completely different shades of temper lighting and lens flare provides a number of the action-less parts of Atomic Blonde a glazed-over, narcotic tempo. (The flashback framing gadget has nearly no worth, other than floor texture.) Its model of purely beauty bad-assery isn’t precisely boring, nevertheless it’s additionally deliberately uninvolving, even on a visceral degree—a perverse accomplishment for a film that options a number of characters taking frying pans to the face and a protagonist who limps her manner out of half of the scenes. One would possibly level out that of all of the latest makes an attempt to revive the Chilly Warfare, that is the one one to essentially emphasize its abstractness and arbitrariness. However that might be studying an excessive amount of into it.