About halfway into Atomic Blonde I was bored. I was waiting, hoping, that something would finally happen to ignite my interest and capitalise on the promise of the film’s explosive title. Fortunately, something did happen – a bravura action set piece filmed as if to be a single, seamless shot – and from there it took off, with rewarding pay-offs and surprising reveals that will, in retrospect, make me appreciate the slog of the film’s first half more.
Atomic Blonde comes to audiences from David Leitch, one half of the directing duo behind John Wick, and features the same electric, brutal and easy-to-follow action that fans of John Wick now know and love. Where Wick re-launched Keanu Reeves as an action star, Atomic Blonde seems poised to do the same for Charlize Theron – who is convincing in a variety of fight scenes and set pieces but whose steely spy Lorraine is buried behind a cold, emotionless facade. We never really get a sense of who she is aside from what the film’s title promises.
Indeed, Atomic Blonde is a difficult film to become emotionally invested in as the characters are all spies or agents of some description with little more characterisation – there’s a generic assortment of British, Russian, German, French and American agents all involved in finding and securing ‘the list’ which, as is always the case in these sorts of movies, is a list of undercover and double agents that would cause disaster in the wrong hands. James McAvoy’s spy David Percival is probably the most interesting character, simply because he’s given a bit more to work with and his actions drive much of the plot.
There is a lot of exposition and positioning before anything really happens however, which is a shame because Atomic Blonde has some of the best action you will see in a movie this year and a very strong denouement. This does not change the fact that I was rather bored for a good portion of the runtime. Still, thanks to a fantastic soundtrack featuring songs from David Bowie, Queen and Nena, as well as its setting on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Atomic Blonde manages to scrape by on style until it finally changes gear. The aforementioned bravura set piece justifies the price of admission alone.