Since the start of the new millennium, the action movie has undergone some pretty radical changes. They’ve gotten bloodier, bigger, more stylish and violent, and a fair amount of them have actually been pretty great if they had a decent director behind the lens. More importantly—women have grown to play a much bigger role in them instead of the object that men need to rescue. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that women can kick as much ass—if not more—than men, but to many it might unfortunately be a surprise. Yes, get over it. You’re not that tough, friend. Atomic Blonde is just another reminder that women—especially ones like Charlize Theron—are putting male action starts to shame with style, brains, and finesse rather than pure brute strength.

Maybe it’s because I was born after all the Cold War crap ended—though did it really?—but I really am always so bored with that whole atmosphere. Like I love all the spy stuff and whatnot, but the period has just been so overdone over the years. It’s not really the movie’s fault for being based on a graphic novel, it’s just unfortunate. 

So anyway, there’s a secret list full of the identities of double agents that Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), an undercover MI16 agent, must track down.  It sounds familiar because it is, but Thankfully Theron more than outdoes herself as a leading action heroine. Tragedy has befallen her, so there’s an extra numbness to her that makes her feel even more badass. She is as cool as a cucumber, never gives off the slightest hint of a single emotion, and can whoop your ass so fast it hurts your eyes to even watch. The action is brutal, unrelenting at times, but it still feels classy.

Toss in a bopping soundtrack filled with 80s wonders like 99 Luftballons, Cat People, London Calling, I Ran and the movie takes on a whole new feel. Though that feel isn’t always quite consistent; its flash and style clash with the grimy undertones that are so associated with Cold War Berlin. 

James McAvoy brings it once again (can they please start casting him in everything?) as David Percival, another agent who Lorraine connects with while in Berlin. He’s a total hedonist; drinking, smoking, sleeping around—and he does it wonderfully. Aside from minor snippets of John Goodman, Toby Jones, and the rising Sofia Boutella (who has some excellent scenes with Theron) there really isn’t much of a recognizable cast, but there doesn’t need to be—this is Theron’s movie.

Atomic Blonde is neither the best action movie in a while nor is it the worst. It lacks identity at times that has made other movies of the type stand out so well. Perhaps it’s the Cold War setting with too many familiar tropes, or perhaps its because it uses the overused framing device of flashbacks during an interview to tell its story. Regardless of its downsides, Atomic Blonde features one badass woman fighting for reason. There’s no romance, no “bachelor” in distress so to speak for her to save—just a bare-knuckle brawler who delivers with every blow. 

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