By Eleanor Ringel Cater
How do you top playing Imperator Furiosa in 2015’s jaw-dropping “Mad Max: Fury Road?”
The answer is, you don’t. But if you’re Charlize Theron, you give it one heckuva try.
In “Atomic Blonde,” Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, a MI6 agent (same level as James Bond). The year is 1989 and the Berlin Wall is about to tumble. But before it does, she must retrieve a list of names that could compromise an entire network of agents, double agents, triple agents…you get the idea.
Not surprisingly, a lot of people want that list, and Lorraine has her hands full keeping herself and her “package” — a mild-mannered East German Stasi agent (Eddie Marsan) who’s memorized said list — alive.
And, not just alive, but eventually, on the other side of the Wall, where she can give him over to her British and American bosses (Toby Jones and John Goodman).
Let the spy games begin…
The characters talk so much about the “game” — “This is the game/I can play this game/game well-played” — that you half expect Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons, to show up.
Instead James McAvoy and Sofia Boutella show up — as agents with agendas of their own.
“Atomic Blonde” is based on a graphic novel, “The Coldest City.” As such, it’s admirably twisty and atmospheric, but, less admirably, somewhat generic.
Still, you really can’t take your eyes off Theron. Not only does she sport the coolest collection of trench coats in recent memory, but she’s very much her own sort of superstar assassin. As in, a stiletto heel through someone’s chest or a set of keys jammed into a bad guy’s cheek.
The problem is, director David Leitch is a former stuntman and as a director, well, he’s an impressive stuntman. Leitch’s idea of style — heavy on the color-coded filters and crazy angles — verges on self-parody. Basically, he gets in his own way.
Leitch is on much firmer ground when it comes to staging the many virtuoso fights. But again, we’ve seen this sort of stuff before; bits from the “Kill Bill” flicks come to mind.
And does anyone really want to see “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy” directed by Quentin Tarantino?
Still, if “Atomic Blonde’s” raison-d’etre is nothing more than to launch an action franchise for Theron, I’m all in.
You will be, too, especially after you you hear her spit out a hard-boiled line like, “If I’d known he was going to call the police I would’ve worn a different outfit.”