Atomic Blonde review: "Theron is totally badass in a relentless thriller that never takes its foot off the gas"

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Theron is totally badass in a relentless thriller that never takes its foot off the gas. Bold and brash, with some of the year’s most bruising fight scenes.

Why you can trust GamesRadar+ Our experts review games, movies and tech over countless hours, so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about our reviews policy.

The name’s Broughton. Lorraine Broughton. While the name might sound more like someone who works in accounts than an international superspy, don’t let the unshowy moniker deceive you. In star (and producer) Charlize Theron’s hands, Lorraine Broughton is one of the most arresting new characters you’ll meet on the big screen this year: ruthless, efficient, seductive… it’s almost like she’s on a mission to out-Bond Bond.

Where Lorraine has an edge on 007 is that this is a hard-R actioner: bones break, heads pop, sex scenes go beyond innuendo. It’s hard to imagine anyone else handling the role’s steely grit like Theron. Lorraine feels instantly iconic, from the platinum bob and chic wardrobe, to her chilly, unreadable stare and an amoral code that’ll keep you on the right side of suspicious throughout.

But, most memorably of all, she’s wholly kickass, with Theron fully committing to the brutal, lengthy fight scenes that take place in locations ranging from a multi-storey apartment block to the backseat of a car.

Set in the late ’80s, with the Berlin Wall still just about standing, Atomic Blonde introduces MI6 agent Broughton as she’s debriefing suited superior Gray (Toby Jones) and a top CIA bod (John Goodman) on her recent escapade in the German capital. From the washed-out greys of the interrogation room, we’re thrust back to the neon-hued, graffiti-smattered streets, and the pace barely lets up from there. Introduced to grubby undercover operative David Percival (James McAvoy), Broughton is seeking a highly classified list of double agents who are being offed one-by-one.

In this world of shifting alliances and back-room dealing, keeping up with the plot is a fool’s errand, as there’s so much quadruple-crossing going on that no one can be entirely trusted. Don’t fret though, as the characters and set-pieces are propulsive enough. Theron is cool incarnate. In one striking shot early on, she’s soothing her bruises in a bath of ice, before dropping a couple of cubes into a glass and topping up with vodka. When she scraps, you half-suspect she might shatter rather than bleed.

If the film’s a close cousin tonally to John Wick, another action throwback about a sharply dressed badass, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. On directing duties here is David Leitch, the stunt coordinator-turned-director who co-directed JW with Chad Stahelski (who went on to direct JW: Chapter 2 solo).

On the strength of Atomic Blonde, it’s no surprise that Leitch has been snapped up for Deadpool 2. He nails the succession of crunching set-pieces – including one bravura tracking shot that’ll leave you feeling pummelled – but also ensures that the film has a distinct look and hyperreal tone.

If you didn’t know Atomic Blonde was based on a graphic novel (2012’s The Coldest City), you’d probably be able to guess: this is stylised, unsubtle cinema, where actions speak much louder than words, and ’80s pop gems underscore several crucial moments. If characters are frequently more cool than complex, it’s hard to gripe when the film is such a hectic blast. A ‘Lorraine Broughton will return’ end card would certainly not be unwelcome.

More info

Available platformsMovie
Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.