Atomic Blonde
Directed by: David Leitch
Starring: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman
Rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout and some sexuality/nudity
1 hr., 55 mins.

I’m not sure why Hollywood and its filmmaker elite are so taken with graphic novels. Sure, there’s the action component, but most graphic novels depend on both a unique visual style and some imaginative and quirky writing.

In the film world, that’s a hard transfer. Good acting, good writing, good camera work, good stunts. It’s a lot to ask.

If anyone could do it, however, it would be Charlize Theron. From Monster to Mad Max: Fury Road, she’s willing to sacrifice beauty to play dirty; or, as in Snow White and the Huntsman, she can use her looks to kill you.

In Atomic Blonde, she does both. As undercover MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, she is sent behind the Berlin Wall just prior to its 1989 collapse to bring home murdered agent James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave) and recover a highly classified document called “the List.”

Her contact is whacked-out double agent David Percival (James McAvoy), who plays off both London and Moscow and is obsessed with transporting a man known as Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), the creator of the List, across the wall and into the welcoming arms of the West.

Broughton and Percival strike a deal. The exchange of Spyglass for the List. But other East German and Russian agents are also in pursuit.

Yuri Bakhtin (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) has the List and is trying to broker a sale. East or West, he doesn’t care. He just wants the money. The other man in play is Aleksander Bremovych (Roland Møller), an East German Stassi. And then, there’s the possible MI6 mole known as Satchel.

Broughton is stuck in a Berlin that is best described as a bad-tempered lover who likes to play violently with her toys. Betrayed, on the run, forced to negotiate with both sides, she learns as she goes that she’s been sent where no one can be trusted and talking can get you killed.

If this sounds complicated, I’ve only scratched the surface. This film is a spider web of plot and could probably use a couple of viewings to figure it out. Is it worth the effort?

No. As a story, screenwriters Kurt Johnstad and Antony Johnston (who wrote the actual graphic novel The Coldest City) have crammed so much into a two-hour time span that this movie threatens to unravel like a tightly wound clock and throw sprockets everywhere.

To make matters worse, it has an awful lot of downtime between action sequences in which director David Leitch seems obsessed with creating vintage 1980s lighting, music and dancing, as if his film were a key witness to the crossroads of history. Kind of like that legendary moment just before Nero (supposedly) played his fiddle while Rome burned. The story’s not true, but you get my gist.

Atomic Blonde kicks in when Broughton does hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. Some of these scenes are so bloody and violent, you wince. In the end, Broughton is battered and bruised, but Theron, who is very athletic, pulls it off. This isn’t Jackie Chan stuff. Some of these scenes have got to hurt.

If you could bottle the last half-hour of this film into an entire story, you might have something. But Leitch takes up too much time with the interrogation antics of Toby Jones and John Goodman as representatives, respectively, of MI6 and the CIA. Consequently, Atomic Blonde pops and sputters like a missile missing some of its fuel. You’ll get an occasional jolt, but don’t expect this film to launch itself into orbit and stay there.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the graphic novel, Atomic Blonde only proves that Theron on her own can kick ass. Otherwise, its befuddled story line will leave you wondering what else is atomic about this film. I hate to say it, but not much.