Atomic Blonde review: Charlize Theron's badass British spy is a match for Bond and Bourne

Atomic Blonde Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton
(Image credit: Jonathan Prime)

MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is in Berlin just before the fall of the wall in 1989, hunting for a missing list of all the spies in the city.

Call off the search for the next James Bond. She’s already here.

Charlize Theron has all the attributes to make a killer 007 and proves it handsomely in the ferociously entertaining Atomic Blonde. She’s playing a British spy for a start; one who is posh, tough, and looks good in designer clothes. She also has what it takes to charm a beautiful woman into bed. What more could you want?

OK. Let's face it, a Charlize-type Bond is not likely to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, though, we can enjoy watching her impossibly cool agent showing off her skills in this terrific spy thriller. It’s based on Antony Johnston’s graphic novel The Coldest City and takes place in a febrile, dangerous Berlin in November 1989, right before the fall of the Wall. A list of all the spies in the city has gone missing and Theron’s MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton, is there to recover it.

Atomic Blonde Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton and James McAvoy as David Percival

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The mission, however, goes violently awry — as we know from the debriefing that frames the action, in which po-faced interrogators Toby Jones and John Goodman pump a bruised but still blithely self-possessed Broughton for information. The flashbacks that follow tell us how she came by those bruises. It’s a fiendishly tangled intrigue, fraught with double and possibly even triple crosses. 

Theron's Broughton can trust no one. Not James McAvoy’s sleazy, self-serving MI6 station chief, David Percival; not slinky French spy Delphine Lasalle, played by Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Star Trek Beyond); and not Eddie Marsan’s nervy Stasi defector.

Le Carré aficionados will get the drift. Yet with stuntman turned director David Leitch at the helm, what ensues in Atomic Blonde is more Bourne than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Leitch, co-director of John Wick, gives the action a thrilling brutality. The fight scenes are remorseless. Indeed, some go on so long that the antagonists are left bloody, bruised, and panting for breath before the end.

Atomic Blonde fight scene featuring Charlize Theron's Lorraine Broughton

Atomic Blonde fight scene featuring Charlize Theron's Lorraine Broughton. (Image credit: Universal Pictures)

We’re left breathless, too. But it’s Theron’s remarkable heroine who really makes us gasp. Looking drop-dead gorgeous as she slinks through Berlin’s neon-drenched bars and clubs pursuing contacts and clues, she’s drop-dead ruthless when it comes to combat. And, as her Imperator Furiosa proved in Mad Max: Fury Road, few can match Theron when it comes to being badass. We really do believe she can take out a roomful of opponents armed only with a length of hose. 

Perhaps, if Bond isn’t an option, she could be the next Bourne.

Review rating: Charlize Theron's on explosive form in this action-packed thrill ride 4/5*
Runtime 115 mins. Director David Leitch.

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.