On the plus side, you have a woman over 40 (Charlize Theron) anchoring an action flick, a confident LGBT protagonist, and a summer blockbuster that isn't another sequel or reboot (Atomic Blonde is adapted from the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City). So that's all progressive and good. Yet aside from a few spectacular fight scenes – no surprise, given that David Leitch, directing his first feature, is one of Hollywood's top stunt coordinators – the story is just a rehash of spy movie tropes.
Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, an agent for Britain's MI6 who is dispatched to Berlin in November 1989, just days before the Berlin Wall is torn down. You've seen elements of the plot in other, better films: you've got the secret list that could expose the identities of hundreds of spies, you've got the nervous East German trying to defect to the West, you've got the mole in MI6 who needs to be unmasked – not too difficult here, since Atomic Blonde only offers two suspects to choose from. (At least Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy gave us four.)
See this film for the wild shootout/fistfight/car chase in the third act, stitched together to appear like one continuous shot. Here Leitch is clearly in his element, and it's to his credit that the fighting looks so real – bruises, panting, clumsy decisions and all. It's exhausting to watch – and it's the highlight of the film. Otherwise, Theron is cool and committed, even if her British accent is iffy. Costar James McAvoy acts like he hasn't yet gotten Split out of his system. The plot twists ultimately confuse more than satisfy. In short, the movie is okay. It's not unmissable, but it's got its moments.
Now let me indulge in a rambling pet peeve.
Anyone who regularly reads my reviews knows that I'm a stickler for period detail, and while Atomic Blonde does an okay job at capturing 1989 European style, its soundtrack is both on-the-nose and inaccurate. Leitch and music supervisor John Houlihan obviously thought, "Germany! 1980s! We have to play 'Der Kommissar' and '99 Luftballons' and 'Major Tom'!" But by 1989, nobody was listening to those songs, so their inclusion is dopey and distracting. Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and Ministry's "Stigmata" are more on the right track (though this version of "Stigmata" is a cover by Marilyn Manson and Atomic Blonde composer Tyler Bates), and there's a passing reference to David Hasselhoff, whose song "Looking for Freedom" was a massive hit in Germany in 1989 (though it sadly isn't played here). But like so many movies set in the '80s, Atomic Blonde tries to compress a very faddish decade – as a former '80s teen, I can tell you whether any given photo or piece of music was produced in 1982, or 1984, or 1987, because that's how different things looked and sounded, year by year – into a general nostalgic blur. I would have been impressed if Leitch had had the nerve to feature "Lambada" on the soundtrack, to swathe Theron in acid washed denim, and to saddle McAvoy with Jams, a clean-shaven mug, and a mullet.