"Atomic Blonde" (out now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD) is an uneasy blend of old Hollywood spy movie and those contemporary arty action pictures with highly-choreographed violence and nearly silent heroes. It somehow hangs together and works, mostly because of a career-defining performance from Charlize Theron. She did the work to prep and she's incredible in the fight scenes that make the movie work.
Apparently, Theron's been trying to get "Atomic Blonde" made for quite a few years and developed the project (based on "The Coldest City" graphic novel) for herself with a script by Kurt Johnstad ("Act of Valor," "300"). She finally got a green light after her amazing action performance in "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "John Wick" co-director David Leitch agreed to direct.
Theron is MI6 assassin Lorraine Broughton, sent to Berlin to obtain a spy list as the Berlin Wall is crumbling in 1989. The whole mission goes sideways and the movie is told in flashback as she fills in her MI6 supervisor Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) back in London. Broughton worked with MI6 undercover David Percival (James McAvoy) and French intelligence agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) on the mission as they attempted to spirit a Stasi officer codenamed Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) out of East Berlin.
The setting gives the filmmakers a chance to do some great new wave smoke-and-blacklight production design and dig deep into the alternative hits of the '80s. Theron gets a couple of love scenes with Boutella (because she's just like Bond that way) and an incredible fight sequence during the Spyglass extraction. If you wanted to get picky, the vibe suggested by music and imagery is far more 1983-84 than 1989, but who's old enough to remember the decade in that much detail?
Everyone's motivations don't become clear until the movie's final frame and all the twists don't completely mesh with the amazing action and visual beauty. Saying this one isn't as pure an experience as "John Wick" doesn't mean it's not one of the most compelling spy movies made in the 21st century.
"Atomic Blonde" comes with plenty of extras, including an extensive breakdown of how they planned and filmed the fight scene mentioned above. For you aspiring filmmakers, there are motion storyboards of a couple of scenes and there's a worthwhile commentary from director Leitch and editor Elisabet Ronaldsdottir.