‘Atomic Blonde’ Review: It’s Got Attitude and Action to Spare, But…

Drew Dietsch
of 5
Review Essentials
  • Stylish direction
  • Engaging action
  • Good performances
  • Convoluted spy plot
  • Uninteresting characters
  • Not much beneath the slick surface

As the Berlin Wall is about to come down, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is sent in to recover a vital piece of information before it falls into the wrong hands. She’ll have to trust the off-the-wall Percival (James McAvoy) and the mysterious Delphine (Sofia Boutella) in order to complete her mission. But, is her stated mission her only real goal?

Lots to Like

atomic blonde review charlize theron action fight scene
Lorraine (Charlize Theron) takes out some KGB thugs.

The idea of blending a Cold War spy thriller with the stylized action of something like John Wick sounds like a great time at the movies. Atomic Blonde does exactly that and it excels in certain areas. Director David Leitch has established himself as an assured and slick filmmaker, and the film works thanks to his laser focus and tight shot construction. His numerous action scenes are engaging, visually vivid, and never boring. A brawl in a movie theater and a stairwell fight are two of the film’s biggest highlights.

And Charlize Theron is dependably awesome. She’s one of our greatest living actors and she is more than up to the task of being an unrelenting badass. Her commitment to the role means she does the majority of her own stunts and fight choreography, and that helps make the impact of the action feel more visceral. Theron gives 100% and that counts for a lot.

You’ve also got to give the movie props for how it carries itself. This movie is cool, both with its attitude and its look. The delightful ‘80s soundtrack, the neon lighting, and the tumultuous time period all help Atomic Blonde stand out in the milieu of action films out there today.

The Wall Comes Falling Down

atomic blonde review stairwell fight
Lorraine gets rough with some goons in a stairwell.

But, there’s only so far all of that can take you if the script isn’t on the same level as everything else. Atomic Blonde’s characters and plot just aren’t super interesting. All the actors involved are doing a good job, and the movie doesn’t ever feel like a slog, but the convoluted mystery doesn’t feel as important to the audience as it does to the characters. Plus, none of the characters are particularly endearing. Being wild, colorful, and dangerous is fun but there isn’t a whole lot of emotional foundation to make you really care for any of these people.

It’s also odd that the film’s decision to be set in Germany during the fall of the Berlin Wall feels incredibly secondary. As I said earlier, it does make for a unique backdrop but the film doesn’t seem interested in genuinely reflecting on this landmark event in modern history. It’s all window dressing, and that feels like a lot of the film. Granted, it’s poppy and rousing window dressing but there just isn’t a whole lot of depth to plumb with Atomic Blonde.

Is Atomic Blonde Good?

atomic blonde review charlize theron feature Cropped
You'll never be as cool as Charlize Theron.

It’s a textbook example of style over substance. To be fair, that’s not always a negative thing. It all depends on what you want to get out of a movie like Atomic Blonde. If streamlined action and overt style are what you like to see, this will be a good time. If you need there to be a little more beyond that, Atomic Blonde will probably leave you wanting. But hey, don’t we always want more Charlize Theron? Yes. Yes, we do.

Become a
Pop culture fans! Write what you love and have your work seen by millions.