PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In 2015, with her 2003 Oscar as Best Actress for Monster in the rear-view mirror and her natural beauty long since established and acknowledged, South Africa-born Charlize Theron presented herself as an action star in Mad Max: Fury Road.
All she did was knock it way out of the park.
Now, lest anyone doubt her intentions or abilities in that furious realm, she further establishes her bam-bam-pow-pow credentials in Atomic Blonde, an exuberant action thriller with a sky-high body count in which she anchors fight scene after fight scene after fight scene.
Theron, who reportedly did her own martial-arts stunts, stars as British secret agent Lorraine Broughton, who arrives in East Berlin on an MI6 assignment in 1989, just as the Berlin Wall is about to be torn down and global superpower alliances are about to shift as the Cold War cools off.
She is to investigate the murder of a fellow undercover agent and retrieve a dossier of agents’ identities before the Soviets can get hold of it.
Her contact in Berlin is David Percival, played by James McAvoy, who has had quite enough of chaotic Berlin and its dangerous inhabitants, thank you very much.
And Lorraine meets and hooks up with flirtatious French agent Delphine Lasalle, played by Sofia Boutella.
Stylized, high-energy action scenes dominate the running time, and they’re breathless and brutal – off-puttingly relentless but technically impressive.
Character delineation, however, is scant, to say the most.
The debuting director is David Leitch, a former stunt coordinator/choreographer who co-directed John Wick but was uncredited, and who is scheduled to direct Deadpool 2.
Here he works from a perfunctory screenplay by Kurt Johnstad that is unambitiously formulaic but manages a twist or two, based on the graphic novel series, “The Coldest City,” by Antony Johnston and Tam Hart.
The political ramifications of what was going on in Berlin at the time is about the furthest thing on anybody’s mind here, and the script’s disinterest in digging beneath the surface of the fisticuffs on display early on, so action purists needn’t worry that they might get less action than they hoped for: whatever else Atomic Blonde is or isn’t, it is certainly kinetic.
But this is Theron’s show all the way, and she is remarkable: as convincing in fulfilling the film’s hand-to-hand battle demands in the numerous set pieces as she is fleshing out her lead role.
It’s Theron who allows the film to live up to its explosive title.
So we’ll spy on 2-1/2 stars out of 4 for the flashy, hard-edged Atomic Blonde, a breakneck action thriller in which style kicks substance’s butt and no one can put the brakes on Charlize Theron.