Set in Cold War-era Berlin, Charlize Theron stars in her best action performance to date in  Atomic Blonde.

Theron portrays MI6 spy Lorraine Broughton, the agency’s top spy who is sent to Berlin to recover a stolen list of Soviet spies and assassinate double-agent Satchel, who she suspects is her Berlin contact David Percival (James McAvoy).

The film, directed by David Leitch, blends the storytelling technique of The Usual Suspects with action scenes reminiscent of Daredevil  on Netflix, all under the backdrop of 1989 Berlin, complete with neon lights and a depressing blue filter on film to show the city’s bleak atmosphere in the days leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Atomic Blonde is filled with the intrigue of a traditional spy film, but gets killed with poor pacing and plot points that get confusing extreme quickly – specifically with Lorraine and David. The relationship kicks off with Lorraine being ambushed by the KGB and the next day she is forced to evade the East German police as she investigates the house of an assassinated spy. The relationship is simple – they don’t trust each other, but they are in some capacity forced to work together.

What the film lacks in a cohesive plot it makes up for in great action scenes and cultural references. Theron spends nearly all action scenes beating the daylights out of multiple men, simultaneously, sometimes synced to ’80s new wave, such as New Order’s “Blue Monday.” Lorraine is brutalizing and crafty, making a weapon out of anything within reach, including a hose (which allows her to escape off of a balcony, using a police officer as the counterweight), a corkscrew and car keys. To an extent, the violence is almost unnecessary, but as Lorraine’s adversaries refuse to stay down, the more necessary it becomes.

In between the fights, however, the films slows down between takes of everyone smoking a cigarette, Lorraine gulping down glasses of Stoli on the rocks and summarizing the events to her MI6 superior Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). While most actions films can work with a poor plot point as long as there is minimal scenes without action, Atomic Blonde fails to do that.

Leitch helped direct John Wick in 2014, and this film shares many similarities, the end result just isn’t as good. Therron performed admirably and watching her kick ass for two hours itself is entertaining, but the film just can’t stay out of its own way.

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