Review: ‘Atomic Blonde’ Solidifies Charlize Theron’s Status as an Action Star

A franchise is born, but hopefully the sequel is more engaging.

RATING: ★★ (out of four stars)

When I first saw Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road back in 2015, I thought to myself, “Man, I need to see Charlize in her own action franchise and ASAP.” Sure, there has been discussion about her Mad Max character, Furiosa, getting a spin-off movie of her own, but it remains to be seen whether that ever will materialize. Fast forward two years after the success of Fury Road to Atomic Blonde, a neon-soaked action spy thriller starring Charlize herself. While Atomic Blonde isn’t memorable by any means, Charlize’s cloak and dagger-like performance is sheer entertainment in and of itself, as she shows off the ass-kicking skills that allow her to go toe-to-toe with just about any other action star in Hollywood.

What hinders Atomic Blonde from becoming another memorable action movie is how it tells its story. After an undercover agent for MI6 is killed while trying to uncover an espionage ring in Berlin on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, MI6 dispatches one of their top-level spy agents, Lorraine Broughton (Theron) to see what went wrong. The action unfolds through a series of flashback scenes during a post-mission interview where Lorraine is questioned by her MI6 superior, Eric Gray (played by the awfully-good Toby Jones), and CIA agent Emmet Kurzfeld (played by the always reliable John Goodman). The problem is that I anticipated just about every twist that was going to happen and figured out how it all would end by the time the movie wrapped up its first act. It also doesn’t help that the first act itself is slow; and by slow, I mean I actually dozed off for five minutes out of sheer boredom. If you can’t keep me awake during a movie, then your movie has a big problem.

But if you can get past that slow first act and the entirely predictable plot, you might find yourself more than entertained with Atomic Blonde thanks to its bankable lead, who knows how to handle herself in the well-choreographed action sequences. After watching Atomic Blonde, it’s easy to see why director David Lietch (who also co-directed John Wick) was recently asked to make Deadpool 2. Some of the movie’s action sequences, as in John Wick and Deadpool, are brutal, yet fun to watch. And, occasionally, some of these sequences will make you laugh when you see someone unintentionally get forced into the middle of the conflicts. One action scene stands in particular, because it appears as if it were entirely done in one take. This scene, which you will easily recognize once it begins to play out, is arguably the best action scene in any movie so far this year.

The movie’s John Wick-esque action would not be possible without its star, Theron. Sure, Theron was already a magnetic, A-list actress long before her action-movie roles in Mad Max and The Fate of the Furious from the past couple of years. But now, thanks to Atomic Blonde, she is an established, bona fide actress in the action genre. Calm, cool, collected, and downright sexy, Theron plays the spy role with authority and plenty of ass-kicking; unmistakably, she commands every scene she’s in from start to finish. Another cast member worth noting is James McAvoy, who delivers his second enticingly good performance of the year, the first being the top-notch thriller, Spilt.

Atomic Blonde is stylish, but light on substance when doesn’t focus on its hard-hitting action sequences. While I left the theater fairly disappointed with this late-summer flick, I still want to explore more of the espionage world this movie introduces us to. While it is more than likely that a franchise will be born out of this movie, let’s hope the sequel is more interesting from a story standpoint and finds new, creative ways to show just how badass Charlize Theron is. Hollywood certainly could stand to make a few more action movies that feature female leads.