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The mission is challenging from the start as Broughton spends as much time fighting for her life as trying to complete the mission. She also rocks the coolest collection of boots ever committed to film, from studded ankle booties for visiting the morgue to thigh-high high heels, the better to kick Russian spies in the face with.

If you love action movies, you probably already love David Leitch.

While the days of non-franchise films supported by a single star may be more or less over (this time, talk to Melissa McCarthy about being a significant exception to that), casting is still crucial. If those are your two main reasons for wanting to see Atomic Blonde, you're in luck.

Leitch dazzles with slow, icy, neon-lit tableaus and long takes where expertly choreographed pandemonium breaks out as Theron's Agent Lorraine Broughton earns her bruises with style.

"The actual graphic novel property is very much in the spirit of 'The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, '" says Leitch, whose film is set in 1989 Berlin, just as the Wall is about to come down and Theron's British superagent, Lorraine Broughton, drops in to discover all kinds of skulduggery and corruption against the raucous anticipation of a soon-to-be reunited Germany. The Oscar victor twisted her knee, bruised her ribs and clenched her teeth so hard while shooting one of the over-the-top fight scenes she cracked two teeth, requiring dental surgery.

The fight stagings in Atomic Blonde, which comes out Friday with (Oscar-winner) Charlize Theron as the putatively title character (nobody ever calls here that, nor does it make actual nuclear sense), are competently if not expertly executed: a level above cheesy chop-socky, not as viscerally fluid as Paul Greengrass manages (though it bears mentioning that the director, David Leitch, has mostly worked as a stuntman, including several Bourne films). So she's a portrait of stoic endurance as she's grilled by MI6 handler Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and Central Intelligence Agency honcho Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman), who want to know what went wrong with a recent operation in which one of her colleagues was killed. Theron is thoroughly convincing in the action but struggles a little with her underwritten part and an accent that shouldn't seem as self-conscious as it is.

"Atomic Blonde" is a film about the power to be found in crafting images and telling stories. Even Charlize Theron, despite all her impressive ass-kickery, feels like a blank slate standing around frames looking sad while discussing a convoluted plot no one cares about.

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Atomic Blonde is based on the comic book The Coldest City by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart. Most of the planning gives way to the attacks that are the source of the movie's continued use of violence filling the screen with buckets of blood.

So about that sequence, the one mentioned at the top of this review: Late in the film, Lorraine gets into it with a couple of thugs at the top of a grand old staircase, and they fight all the way down the stairs, pausing at each landing, in what Leitch stages as a continuous, unbroken shot. Atomic Blonde is still good, stylish fun.

It's refreshing (if, of course, viscerally disturbing) that they don't indulge in the cliche of female action heroes magically recovering from all battle-blemishes between scenes.

But it's the Bond and Bourne films from which Leitch and screenwriter Kurt Johnstad borrow most heavily; there's an escape which is lifted from the opening sequence of The World Is Not Enough, and a line of dialogue that that is nearly verbatim what Dominic Greene tells Bond in A Quantum of Solace about the propensity of those around him to, well, die. The accumulated damage from a half-dozen brawls takes its toll, and by the end Broughton is so battered Atomic Blonde could be a Die Hard sequel. But oh, how good it feels to see her throw one!

Not every twist in "Atomic Blonde" is as "twisty" as the filmmakers might have envisioned.

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She's partnered with Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy), a hot mess of a spy his MI6 superiors fear has "gone native". The movie has verve, and you're rarely bored even when you lose track of the sputtering plot.


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