'The Atomic Blonde' gives Theron a chance to kick butt

This image released by Focus Features shows Charlize Theron left and Sofia Boutella in

She also supplied some of the movie's most memorable lines. She shows off that charm in a series of well-choreographed encounters with another spy played by Sofia Boutella.

She does all three extremely well - often twice at the same time - and is the biggest of several reasons "Atomic Blonde" works very well and is entertaining. And to paraphrase another Bond character, Theron and Leitch really make you feel it.

Reeves' John Wick has reinvigorated the industry's demand for action movies. Veteran stuntman and stunt coordinator David Leitch directed some those sequences for "Wick" and was rewarded by getting the chance to call all the shots for "Atomic Blonde", a high-action story set against the 1989 collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Atomic Blonde is out in theaters Friday (July 28). The MI6, led by Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and Chief C (James Faulkner) dispatch their top-level spy Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) to Berlin with a special mission. Like Watchmen, Atomic Blonde is based on a graphic novel - Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's The Coldest City - and is set during the Cold War. Unfortunately, the spy thriller surrounding all of that and the weak characterization undermines the strength of the premise, so all of the trappings feel like they're doing the heavy lifting because the story and characters aren't enough to get you invested. It's unlikely Atomic Blonde will become one of those, but there are a few fights and shoot outs that demand to be seen by any fan of the genre.

ATOMIC BLONDE officially changes that movie trope.

There are fleeting moments of personality shown, such as the under-her-breath invectives directed at her MI6 boss (Toby Jones) and an assisting Central Intelligence Agency chief (John Goodman) during a post-mission debriefing. Theron is thoroughly convincing in the action but struggles a little with her underwritten part and an accent that shouldn't seem as self-conscious as it is. Sadly, that's just not how Atomic Blonde came together. (Their gratuitous sex scene sets up one of Atomic Blonde's funnier gag cuts.) Lorraine is a fantasy object-a statuesque Barbie-blond who fucks attractive women when she isn't fucking up ugly, cauliflower-eared Soviet henchmen-and Theron owns it.

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For Theron, Atomic Blonde firmly re-establishes her action hero credentials after her astonishing turn in Mad Max: Fury Road. It really does blow you away with its fight choreography, Theron performance, and overall style. Should the producers seriously consider a crossover for the two action movies, there wouldn't be much red tape, and it may be a lot easier to film than originally thought. Why is the fallback option for espionage plots always a master list of secret agents?

There's no point in resisting it - we have to admit that we live in a world where Oscar-winning actors with actual acting chops gladly appear in movies based on comic books (or "graphic novels" if they want to sound classier) to establish their movie-star bones. It runs 115 minutes and is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity. Delving deeper into it, one could see that the character's role is somewhat mirroring her own strength in real life.

Aside from the fact that Atomic Blonde and John Wick share directors, the movies were both made by the production company 87eleven. Atomic Blonde is fun, but it wouldn't be almost as much fun without Theron, McAvoy, and the rest. That happened for me by the end of "Atomic Blonde", but fortunately, the mayhem along the way is so dazzling to look at that it didn't matter.

The terrific soundtrack includes the likes of David Bowie, New Order, 'Til Tuesday, Siouxsie & The Banshees and the most mournful cover version of "99 Luftballons" you'll probably ever hear.

It's not that all the mayhem leading up to THAT mega-brawl is negligible, mind you, it's just that the BIG donnybrook/shootout in this thing is epic and worth putting up with all the narrative wool-fathering which is a bit closer to tedious than it ought to have been. Theron isn't an invincible super spy like James Bond.



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