Adapted from the graphic novel “The Coldest City” and helmed by one-time Stuntman David Leitch, Atomic Blonde (2017) sends Charlize Theron’s Badass MI6 agent to Berlin to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.
Set against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall the soviet-era spy plot is all but subsumed by a soundtrack of garden variety Eighties Singles found on any mass-market compilation. While the aesthetic is largely true enough of the era, Theron’s outfits themselves often seem to leave as little to the imagination as possible without heed for retro trends. The dramatic question of Atomic Blonde is not so much “will Charlize succeed in her mission” as which will win, style or substance.
This film is not without merit, however. Theron is engaging as an action hero, albeit not a British one and the fight scenes are well choreographed and believably perilous for the female lead, standing out not just for the fact that they are mercifully free of music but they are perhaps the only element of the film without a hint of pastiche.
The thin spy plot is would have been serviceable for the film the filmmakers seemingly wanted to make but style ‘uber alles’ only really works if the style is consistent and the soundtrack builds or at least contributes to atmosphere, rather than containing ‘on the nose’ musical choices. No prizes for guessing which Nena song plays over scenes in Berlin or which Clash song plays over scenes of London.
In the end, the film doesn’t quite hang together and is more exploitative than engaging with disparate elements fighting each other for second place behind action set pieces.