ATOMIC BLONDE (15, 115 mins) Action/Thriller/Romance. Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, John Goodman, Johannes Johannesson, Sam Hargrave. Director: David Leitch.
Released: August 9 (UK & Ireland)
Sweet dreams are made of director John Leitch’s action-packed spy caper, based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart.
Hard-wired with 1980s nostalgia, Atomic Blonde is a kick-ass blast from the post-glasnost past that diverts attention from a flimsy plot and questionable characterisation with the most dazzling hand-to-hand fisticuffs since Matt Damon’s tours of duty as Jason Bourne.
Lead actress Charlize Theron cracked her teeth during production and was badly bruised during punishing and breathlessly choreographed fight sequences, including an epic final showdown expertly stitched together to resemble a single fluid take.
These bravura skirmishes bode well for Leitch’s next stint in the director’s chair: Deadpool 2.
Screenwriter Kurt Johnstad attempts some Usual Suspects-style smoke and mirrors by relating the narrative in flashback from the confines of an interrogation room.
Deception is an art that Johnstad has yet to fully master but he succeeds in peppering the intrigue with crowd-pleasing nods to the era like the no-nonsense heroine’s description of co-star James McAvoy: “Handsome, late 30s, disastrous Sinead O’Connor hair.”
Another character explains witnesses a sea of blinding camera flashes outside a German cafe and deadpans: “David Hasselhoff’s in town.”
The year is 1989 and tension crackles between east and west Berlin.
KGB agent Yuri Bakhtin (Johannes Johannesson) shoots MI6 agent James Gascoigne (Sam Hargrave) dead on the snow-laden streets and steals a microfilm containing the names and locations of active field agents.
MI6 chief Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and his gruff CIA counterpart Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) pressgang elite British spy Lorraine Broughton (Theron) to locate Bakhtin and retrieve the microfilm before agents on both sides of the Atlantic are compromised.
She must also smuggle Soviet defector Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) out of the divided city.
Her contact in Berlin is renegade station chief David Percival (McAvoy), who knows everyone and has his grubby fingers in various pies.
From the moment Lorraine saunters through the airport arrivals lounge, she is under KGB surveillance and has to fight her way out of tight corners.
She finds an unlikely ally in inexperienced French operative Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), who believes she knows the identity of a traitor in the MI6 ranks, codename Satchel.
Atomic Blonde is muscular escapist entertainment, set to a tub-thumping soundtrack of Depeche Mode, A Flock Of Seagulls, George Michael, Nena and New Order.
Theron slinks and somersaults through each frame with gung-ho intent and her steamy bedroom scene with Boutella threatens to melt celluloid.
In a pleasing reversal of action movie gender stereotypes, McAvoy trades blows with his words rather than his fists.
Leitch plays to his strengths as a stunt co-ordinator, pushing cast to physical limits with each exhilarating flurry of punches, kicks, tooth-shattering face plants and acrobatic tumbles.
Blondes have more bone-crunching fun.