Reviews of Atomic Blonde—the adaptation of the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, starring Charlize Theron as a bisexual secret agent with a very particular set of skills that are put to the test in Berlin on the eve of the fall of the wall—are almost beside the point. This type of movie is sometimes called review-proof because if someone has made up their mind to go see an escapist action flick starring the gorgeous and hugely talented Charlize Theron, it's unlikely that a bad review would dissuade them. What’s more, some criticisms—that the movie prizes style over substance; that it is soundtracked with obvious 80s music cues; that the plot is a slight excuse to let loose a montage of stunt filled set pieces—are more like attributes. Although its female, lady-loving main character Lorraine Broughton is a decidedly trailblazing feature, Atomic Blonde isn't about probing character analysis or an involved storyline (the much-discussed list that everyone’s after, full of supposedly shocking secrets, might as well be the Tesseract). This film is about the way Theron’s bruised back shimmers as it emerges from a tub full of ice. Or the way pillow feathers drift down like snowflakes during a hotel room shoot out. Or how the final instrumental squiggle of George Michael's "Father Figure" is heard as Lorraine struts away from her latest multiple bad guy smackdown. It’s the kind of hyper-stylized, fabulously entertaining cinema that Tony Scott used to make back in the actual 1980s (in fact, the love-making sequences between Theron and Sofia Boutella’s Delphine owe a debt to his vampire epic The Hunger).
The emphasis on action sequences is welcome, because as I’ve said for years, they don’t make many true blue action films these days. Most of the action we see onscreen is found in CGI-laden wannabe spectacles where things blow up but nobody ever seems to get hurt. Atomic Blonde brings us back to the visceral intimacy of real people experiencing real pain; Theron retreats to that icy bathtub on more than one occasion because she needs it. And the fact that it's really her performing these intense maneuvers is quite simply a revelation. Watching Lorraine Broughton use everything at her disposal to dispatch the bad guys while collecting bloody boo boos is exhilarating. There are some scenes in Atomic Blonde that are so hyperkinetic they make you want to hold your breath and widen your eyes so you don’t miss anything.
The rest of the time, we’re treated to prime tracks by the likes of David Bowie (“see these eyes so green,” the Thin White Duke purrs as Theron's own green eyes stare into the mirror) and crackling interplay between the terrific cast, including the entertainingly suspect James McAvoy, Toby Jones, and John Goodman.
Atomic Blonde is a slam bang popcorn movie that’s wonderful to look at and a terrific showcase for Charlize Theron’s effortless cool and impressive physicality. And really, that’s enough.