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‘Atomic Blonde’ review: Charlize Theron shines in explosive spy thriller

 Charlize Theron plays a bombshell secret agent in this action thriller (Credit: Universal Pictures)

PLOT In 1989, a Western spy infiltrates East Berlin.

CAST Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella

RATED R (strong violence and sexuality)


BOTTOM LINE An absolute blast, with a never-sexier Theron in some of the best action scenes to hit a screen.

Anyone who lived through the 1980s and the rise of MTV will remember all the excited talk about music videos as “a new art form.” Mostly what we got were low-budget pseudo-noirs like Berlin’s “The Metro” and Def Leppard’s “Photograph.” Still, we thought, what if someone could marry the sonic energy of modern rock with high-quality cinematic sex and violence? Then we’d have something!

It took a few decades, but David Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde,” starring Charlize Theron as a bisexual secret agent infiltrating East Berlin at the tail end of 1989, finally delivers the goods. It is hands-down the best music video ever, a super-stylish spectacle full of neon lights, cocktail glasses and red lips sucking on cigarettes, all set to a pulsating soundtrack of synth-pop and goth-rock. But it’s also more than that. It’s the wildest, grittiest action film in years; a retro-cool nostalgia trip; and a fresh blast of originality in a summer of stultified Hollywood franchises.

Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, a spy whose talents include several languages, a vicious right jab and a distracting eroticism. In the bombed-out dystopia of Berlin, Broughton faces nearly nonstop assassination attempts as she hunts down a Stasi informant called Spyglass (Eddie Marsan). Her main contact, a slippery operative named David Percival, is played by a delightful James McAvoy, oozing greasy sex appeal in tacky shades and a fur coat.

All of this is an excuse for Leitch, a stuntman-turned-director (2014’s “John Wick”), to stage one breathtaking action scene after another, as if hoping to knock out every pugilistic filmmaker from Sam Peckinpah to Paul Greengrass. The film culminates in a single-take ballet of beatings, shootings and stabbings that has already become known as “the stairwell scene.”

The other soon-to-be famous moment, a steamy tryst between Broughton and French agent Delphine (a charming Sofia Boutella), would seem purely like a male fantasy if it weren’t for the tenderness that develops between the women. That’s just one example of how this film breathes new life into old tropes. “Atomic Blonde” has set off a cinematic blast that may resonate for years to come.

4 more ‘Blonde’ movies

Is it true blondes have more fun? They sure seem to in movies. For Charlize Theron in “Atomic Blonde,” fun consists of kicking butt and using whatever means necessary to take care of the bad guys in this spy thriller. Here are some other popular “Blonde” movies.

PLATINUM BLONDE (1931) — Jean Harlow’s hair attracted more attention than her performance in Frank Capra’s comedy about a socialite who makes headlines when she marries a reporter.

BLONDIE (1938) — Penny Singleton played the bubbly wife of Dagwood Bumstead (Arthur Lake) in this first of 28 films based on Chic Young’s popular comic strip. On TV, Singleton made her mark as the voice of Jane Jetson.

GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953) — Diamonds — and Jane Russell — were Marilyn Monroe’s best friends in this sparkling musical in which she played a golddigging showgirl. Monroe and Russell were great pals off the set, too.

LEGALLY BLONDE (2001) — After getting dumped by her boyfriend, ditsy blonde Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) doesn’t get mad, she gets even by following him to law school. Not only does Elle prove she has legal smarts, she gets courted by a hunky attorney (Luke Wilson).— Daniel Bubbeo

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