At one point in Atomic Blonde, MI 6 agent Lorraine Broughton is trying to smuggle a Stasi defector out of East Berlin. He's wounded. She instructs him to wait in the lobby of a building and then goes into bone-crunching battle with baddies who are everywhere. They punch and slice and shoot at each other down a staircase, in and out of an apartment and into the street and a car. The 10-minute sequence has seamless stitching and feels like one take. It's a marvel of choreography, action, technique and craft. You can see the consequences of every punch, the energy of the performers slowly sapping out, the bruises and blood coloring the frame. You are in the fight with these people. I got breathless. I'll confess that I also shut my eyes.
If you are an action fan, this is manna from heaven. Stuntman-turned-director David Leitch gives us a singular show-stopper – I want to see the film again so I can keep my eyes open and study the exact choreography. It's staggering.
What's less staggering is the script – honestly, it's incomprehensible. Atomic Blonde is based on a graphic novel called The Coldest City. It's set in Berlin in 1989, in the week that the Wall falls. Agents from various countries – UK, America, Russia, France, Germany – are chasing a list of the Western secret agents and each other. There are double and triple crosses. And in the midst of the mayhem is the spectacular Charlize Theron.
She is the ultimate woman of steel. When we first see her, she is emerging from an ice bath, naked and severely bruised. She's fierce but she's also superbly stylish. In one scene, she wounds an opponent using only her stiletto. I couldn't walk in those heels for five minutes but she decimates men wearing them. I have to admit there is a real pleasure in watching her steam-roll everything in her path.
The trouble is that we admire her but never get invested in her quest. There is too much posturing and not enough substance. Everyone inhales deeply on cigarettes and says forgettable dialogue like – Let's cut the crap, shall we? It's designer grit, powered by a great 80s pop music soundtrack. But it gets tiring fairly quickly.
Still, Charlize is such a force of nature that I'm willing to sign up for another installment of her super-cool, super-hero Blonde. I just hope this time we also get a story.