Movie Review: Atomic Blonde

The superspy stylishly turns in the fight, shoots, splatters red blood onto the glossed lips of a face on a poster.

I’m sitting in a car with friends I’ve known since the 80s, at the Docks Drive-In, a relic of the Cold War era nestled in the Port Lands, the last seedy waterfront section of Toronto, between the gentrified Harbourfront and the Beaches, and I’m watching a film shaped by the Cold War, 1980s videos, noir cinema, and Hollywood’s desire to set up bigger, sexier, more violent thrills.

As Debbie Harry sang with studied vacuousness, “Your hair is beautiful. Atomic.”

Title: Atomic Blonde

Director: David Leitch
Writer: Kurt Johnstad
Adapted from the graphic novel, The Coldest City, by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart


Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton
James McAvoy as David Percival
John Goodman as Emmett Kurzfeld
Eddie Marsan as Spyglass
Toby Jones as Eric Gray
James Faulkner as Chief
Sofia Boutella as Delphine Lasalle
Roland Møller as Aleksander Bremovych
Bill Skarsgård as Merkel
Sam Hargrave as James Gasciogne
Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson as Yuri Bakhtin
Til Schweiger as Watchmaker
Lili Gesler as Helena
Barbara Sukowa as Coroner


As the Cold War crawls to a close, MI6 sends a super-spy to locate a list of active double agents. Spies can never really trust anyone. This mission heightens the distrust, since every double agent in existence wants her mission to fail.

In particular, she has to keep an eye out for Satchel, a duplicitous operative planted so deep no one has any idea who he or she might be.

High Points:

This film makes for an interesting experience. A perfect, persistent 80s soundtrack permeates the film, and the visual images, with their mix of washed and popped colours, recall that strangely decadent decade that looked and sounded more like the twenty-first century than the actual twenty-first century. The darkness and muted tones suggest film noir, but a noir always half-lit by bright neon and luminescent blood. The Cold War characters inhabit a period music video. They smoke and bleed as the bass pounds and the guns fire and they try to keep a step ahead of their uncertain enemies and allies. It’s a violent and synthetic world, scored with synthesizers and electric drums.

Low Point:

Atomic Blonde wants to be a sexier, more violent, female James Bond movie. Even James Bond, however, reveals personality and motive and gradually, he engages us. Charlize Theron gives a strong, stylized performance, but I have no sense of who Lorraine Broughton is or why I should care about what happens to her. Her one sexual relationship features fewer preambles than a Bond Girl pick-up. They start making out during an interrogation and suddenly share a bed.

The movie tells most of Broughton’s story in flashback so we know she’ll survive. It hardly matters. She has Batman/Black Widow level fighting skills, with Rorschach’s inhibitions about killing. Despite the ultraviolence and spy intrigue, I never felt like Broughton was in any real danger.

All the characters, in fact, feel like chess pieces, despite the efforts of a strong cast. While this approach might suit a spy film about the Cold War, it impedes immersion and enjoyment.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 We have an adaptation filled with familiar conventions of action movies and spy thrillers.

Effects: 6/6 The film features remarkable mise en scène, stunning action sequences, and a blurring of practical visuals and CGI.

Acting: 5/6 Theron gets special credit for training to peak condition and performing her own stunts.

Production: 6/6

Story: 5/6 The twisted, confounding plot makes sense once you’ve seen the final twists and, in the context of the Cold War, it almost seems plausible.

Emotional Response: 4/6

Overall: 4/6 Atomic Blonde is a beautiful, violent, death-filled work of art. I’m sure it will inspire a visually clever videogame. However, I simply couldn’t care enough about it.

In total, Atomic Blonde receives 33/42