Atomic Blonde is a violent, neon-drenched pleasure romp. Charlize Theron is in her finest action form as an ass-kicking MI6 agent who can crack a man’s skull in — or sometimes with — a fine pair of heels. But her best accessory? The film’s killer soundtrack, a mix of ‘80s synthpop that elevates it above typical action-genre fanfare.
With every superbly choreographed move Theron takes, there is an equally perfect song added for garnish. The film leans into its 1989 setting by collecting some of the best songs of the decade, then unleashing them at the most unexpected moments. Nena’s “99 Luftballoons” is the background track for a brutal interrogation; ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” becomes a ballad of tension as two characters struggle for their lives. Not a single song in the film feels like a whiff, whether it’s David Bowie / Queen’s “Under Pressure” or Depeche Mode’s “Behind the Wheel.”
Atomic Blonde relishes cheeky use of diegetic sound. Theron uses George Michael’s “Father Figure” to give herself a noisy cover when she finds herself pinned down in an apartment. Other scenes see characters blasting the scene’s music from their radios, only for the track to cut at the most dramatic moment.
The movie won’t hit theaters until July 28th, but this is one of those rare times when its bombastic trailer (featuring both Queen’s “Killer Queen” and Health’s “Blue Monday”) perfectly captures its tone without spoiling every detail. There’s a defiant, synthpunk feel to Atomic Blonde, from the spray paint-style on-screen captions for time and place to Theron and James McAvoy’s equally stylish hairstyles. But it’s the film’s soundtrack that truly reveals its personality — and makes its best scenes unforgettable moments that will continue playing in my mind on loop.