The best action movies can be summed up in one sentence. “Reluctant cop fights terrorists in a Los Angeles skyscraper.” “There’s a terminator, and it’s judgement day.” “A grieving widower seeks revenge on the criminals who killed his dog.” That easy-to-recap premise is one of the reasons why John Wick became a sleeper hit: It’s brilliantly simple, not to mention relatable. You’d want to murder Theon Greyjoy, too, if he killed your poor puppy.
Atomic Blonde is neither simple or relatable, which unfortunately keeps it being from a classic. But David Leitch’s spy thriller, based on Antony Johnston’s graphic novel The Coldest City, boasts a deceptively cunning performance from Charlize Theron, and one of the best action scenes I’ve seen in years. We’ll post a full review of Atomic Blonde closer to the film’s release date (July 28; it premiered on Sunday at SXSW), but for the most part, it lives up to its “Jane Wick” similarities. The hyper-stylized violence is fast and furious, and the lead characters are supremely talented at their jobs.
There are major differences between Atomic Blonde and John Wick, though: Theron gives a more complex performance than Keanu Reeves (that’s not a knock on his performance; he’s supposed to be a blank slate you project your emotions onto), and the plot is impossible to follow. If anything, Atomic Blonde has more in common with the recent James Bond movies, down to the obligatory sex scene and sparse humor. Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is a top-level MI6 spy who has to recover a list of Her Majesty the Queen’s undercover agents in Germany during the collapse of the Berlin Wall. That sounds simple enough. Except much of the film is told through interrogation room flashbacks, and there are double- and triple-crosses, and most of the bad guys look the same, except James McAvoy, whose David Percival might as well be nicknamed “The Beast.” It’s pointless to try to make sense of what’s going on, so I stopped. Luckily, that was around the time of the best scene in the movie.