In a movie landscape hurting for action stars, Charlize Theron shows in "Atomic Blonde" that the likes of Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel have some competition.
After upstaging both in "Fate of the Furious," the 42-going-on-25-year-old actress epitomizes the hashtag #slay as acrobatic, brutal MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton.
Theron combines the unflappable cool of James Bond with the stone-cold pragmatism of Jason Bourne. Rooms full of armed enemies have little chance against her bewildering array of flying fists and feet. Director David Leitch hews close to his "John Wick" template that got him the seat in the director's chair.
Restoring Keanu Reeves' credibility as a steel-gazed assassin was ample training for this passion project, which vaults Leitch into the realm of elite action directors. His narrative rages with the momentum of a freight train, with little time to pause for exposition or romance. Theron's character makes love the way she fights -- with forceful, crowd-pleasing intensity.
Leitch handles his other actors with equal aplomb. John Goodman and Toby Jones make deep impressions as intelligence overseers, and Sofia Boutella, as a rival agent and love interest, smolders the way she did as one of the few bright spots in the pathetic "Mummy" reboot.
While the story is nothing special -- like just about all spy movies, the plot is based on tracking down a list of secret agents -- but the setting is a refreshing change of pace from the norm. Berlin in 1989, days before the wall would fall, serves as a chess board for Cold War angst, evolving technology and raging cultural tumult.
The time and place also allows for a spectacular soundtrack, which runs the gamut from Nena to Queen to Depeche Mode and, fittingly due to the title and star, Blondie. It's a best-of-the-80s soundtrack that will remind gamers of the thrills they found in "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," which contained most of the same songs.
The best moments in "Atomic Blonde" are when the soft songs serve as a counterpoint to the frenetic action onscreen, with overplayed lyrics gaining new meaning when juxtaposed with the "did I really just see that?" set pieces. As the Berlin Wall cumbles, Theron shoves a bloody fist through whatever shards of the female action star glass ceiling remained.
You don't need Bond when you've got Blonde.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4