If you’ve been craving a female spy to lead her own espionage flick (like Rebecca Ferguson’s British agent in ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ but with more screen time) you’re in luck. ‘John Wick’ co-director David Leitch’s ‘Atomic Blonde’ might be over the top, bloated with plot and heavy on neon-lit visuals, but it will satisfy your appetite for a female action heroine. Allow the icy, unconquerable Charlize Theron – who proved her action chops as Furiosa in ‘Mad Max’ – to escort you through a labyrinth of Cold War machinations in a movie filled with high-wire fights, high fashion and no-strings-attached sex. Just don’t call her a bitch (as one character learns the hard way).
It’s 1989 and the impending fall of the Berlin Wall is the backdrop as we follow British agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron, with killer shades and a wobbly accent) through a faux-complicated spy narrative. An undercover mole has been murdered and a top-secret list threatened. As part of her assignment to infiltrate a Russian intelligence network, Lorraine is paired with unflappable Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy) and falls into bed with a double-crossing French agent (Sofia Boutella). Meanwhile, a distracting second timeline features a CIA spook (John Goodman) interrogating a bruised Lorraine in a slow drip of flashbacks.
Not everything adds up: ‘Atomic Blonde’ could do with a dash of cheeky Bond humour, and it relies excessively on Theron’s charisma, while the obvious soundtrack hops from one staple to the next (New Order, David Bowie, Queen, you name it). But it has enough punchy delight to sustain our attention, including one exceptionally well-choreographed fight sequence that lets Theron take the stage with astonishing moves. While it’s not a perfect female-centric spy thriller (let’s keep trying), 'Atomic Blonde' winks to a future with exciting possibilities.