Charlize Theron Is a Force to Be Reckoned With in Spy-Thriller ‘Atomic Blonde’

While James Bond has largely dominated the spy-thriller genre for the better part of five decades, a few female counterparts have scattered onto the scene. Angelina Jolie in “Wanted” and “Salt” immediately comes to mind, but none have managed to break out into franchise-worthy characters as lucrative as 007 himself. That is, until now.

In “Atomic Blonde,” Charlize Theron commands the screen as Lorrain Broughton, a tough-edged secret agent working under the slick surveillance of her superior (Toby Jones) and C.I.A. chief (John Goodman). Her mission, seemingly plucked from every spy-thriller cliché, is to attain the list that contains the whereabouts and identities of every double agent, following the untimely murder of a key member.

Story clichés aside, aesthetically, the film is quite a feat. With a $30 million budget, the jaw-dropping spectacle of “Blonde” comes not from large-scale disaster scenes or over-the-top destruction as typically seen in large summer films, but instead derives from the complex and tightly choreographed stunt work.

Director David Leitch (“John Wick”), a former stuntman himself, saves the rather cliché spy story with stylishly framed, pulse pumping action. He assures high-octane sequences, including a single-take five-minute battle that weaves throughout an entire apartment building and leaves the viewer short winded and completely amazed once it is finished. In a similar vein to this summer’s sleeper hit “Baby Driver,” a sharp retro soundtrack elevates the experience of the film. Particular attention should be paid to Jonathan Sela’s stellar cinematography, which fills the screen with sharp contrast.

Set in 1989 Germany, Broughton’s journey finds her meeting David Percival (James McAvoy), who assists her in the task of locating the imperative list and those responsible for its disappearance. Percival is unreadable but relevant. Only Broughton needs hardly any assistance as the vodka drinking alpha-female. Most questionably, Broughton falls into an intimate entanglement with a French spy (Sofia Boutella, “The Mummy”), but the relationship lacks any real emotional connection. Inevitably, the two-hour runtime finds Broughton opposed with a couple twists and turns involving alliances, power, and double agents, but her mission lacks any true drive.

For Theron, a lot is at stake for the Academy Award winning actress regarding the film’s success. “Blonde” is the first big screen title, aside from “Dark Places” which drew a limited and quite forgettable run back in 2015, in which she also carries a producer title. Luckily for Theron, the work paid off. While the film is certainly style over story, especially when compared to this summer’s pinnacle blockbuster release, “War for the Planet of the Apes,” “Blonde” nevertheless serves as an entertaining and stylish spy-thriller. Not only does the film legitimize her producing repertoire, but it also opens the door to lead a brand new franchise.

In contemporary cinema, franchises keep movie stars afloat. Sure, an award-worthy drama is great here or there. But franchises hold the ultimate key. For Theron, who already has her hands deep in several franchises, including the highly lucrative “Fast and Furious” films and “Mad Max” saga, “Blonde” cements her reigning Hollywood status. The theater experience might even inspire a new generation of moviegoers to utter “Blonde” over “Bond.”

Atomic Blonde” opens in theaters July 28.