Kicking Ass and Taking Names: A Review of ‘Atomic Blonde”

By The Collectress

I have done my best to keep this review spoiler-free and will tag any potential spoilers with **. 

I would say that the world has long awaited a kick-ass female spy to throat-punch her way into Hollywood and not be treated as something more fragile, more breakable her male colleagues, or as merely a sexual object of a James Bond. I know I’ve been waiting for it, teased with films like Wanted or Salt or Charlie’s Angels. And, while I enjoyed the action that those films provided, it always bothered me that these women had to be seen as invulnerable. If we saw them bleed, in the next scene it was gone, the makeup perfectly back in place. Atomic Blonde, however, gives us the female action lead that is on par with any male we’ve seen: she’s tough, she’s sexy, and she bruises.

And, honestly, in a world saturated with CGI’d violence, a little realistic bruising is quite refreshing.

From the film’s first moments, we see Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) bruised, bandaged, and rocking a healing black eye. Set at the end of the 1980s, the film is narrated by Lorraine, telling her superiors at MI-6 what transpired in Berlin over the past ten days. We see these events unfold as Lorraine narrates, but always with the suspicion that something isn’t quite right, a suspicion that Lorraine herself shares. **Her mission in Berlin was to investigate the death of a fellow MI-6 agent, and to recover The List–a top-secret intel that would reveal the identity of a double agent known as Satchel. She is partnered with David Percival (James McAvoy), an agent long-time stationed in Berlin and isn’t quite trustworthy.

If you’re thinking this is an action/comedy of the misadventures of Lorraine and Percival, it’s not. There is no trust between them, and little affection. This is not a Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore Bond-esque film; it’s firmly in the dark and gritty territory of Daniel’s Craig’s bond. Lorraine works alone in Berlin, **although she does grow close to Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), another agent stationed in Berlin. Delphine may be Lorraine’s love interest, but she is not Lorraine’s “Bond girl,” however. Rather, Delphine is a cautionary tale of what happens when Lorraine trusts anyone besides herself.

Lorraine’s wardrobe, meant to pay homage to the film’s graphic novel origins, also gives the audience a sense of who Lorraine really is: she’s black and white, and when she’s not, she’s all red. In fact, it is the starkness of her wardrobe, paired with the bleakness of late-Cold War Berlin that gives the film its aesthetic. There is none of the glitz and glamour of a Bond film; Atomic Blonde is a spy thriller of its own making, relying on not a genre of preset expectations to depict its story, but its own narrative and Lorraine’s mysterious but compelling determination to get the job done.

It is this idea of self-reliance that keeps Lorraine alive. She fights, and she fights well, but she is human, and so she bruises and she bleeds. Yet she keeps fighting, because that’s who Lorraine is. The film is set in Berlin in the days before the Wall comes down, and the political tensions are as high as the film’s suspense. This may be a spy film, but it’s one in which the end of the Cold War hangs in the balance, and no one is more aware of it than Lorraine. **As she explains her actions to her superiors in the back-and-forth timeline, she makes it clear that she was working for the good of her country, but as the plot thickens, the real question becomes who is she really working for?

The answer is at the end of the film is the same as the beginning: Lorraine works for herself. No ties of country, friendship, or romantic attraction will change that.

Atomic Blonde is now playing in U.S. cinemas.