Jason Bourne is so last year, James Bond is a couple of years away, and John Wick just tore through a few dozen fellow assassins this past winter - but it's time for those male killer spies whose first names start with J to move aside. Charlize Theron has arrived to claim the action movie crown of the summer with Atomic Blonde, directed by David Leitch (John Wick) and based on the Oni Press graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent assigned to Berlin in November 1989, just as the Berlin Wall was about to fall. Her mission is to rendezvous with MI6's Berlin Station operative David Percival (James McAvoy) and recover the List, which contains the names of all of MI6's deep cover operatives in both East and West Berlin.
Atomic Blonde is a showcase for Theron's incredibly visceral prowess as an action hero (she is said to have performed most of her own stunts) and for Leitch's inventive, bloody set pieces. However, the actual plot of Atomic Blonde may leave viewers confused in between trying to catch their breath after each fight and chase sequence of escalating ferocity. To understand exactly what happened when Atomic Blonde ended, we'll have to follow the clues to uncover the method to the madness of this film's twisty spy game.
ATOMIC BLONDE'S SPY GAME
When Atomic Blonde begins, an MI6 agent named James Gasciogine (Sam Hargrave) is murdered by a Soviet assassin named Bakhtin (Jóhannes Jóhannesson). Bakhtin took from Gasciogine a special watch made by The Watchmaker (Til Schweiger). The watch contains a List of MI6's operatives on both sides of the Berlin Wall. The List also has something extra special wanted by MI6: the identity of Satchel, a double agent selling secrets to the Russians and who betrayed Gasciogine. The British send their agent Lorraine Broughton to Berlin to recover the List and assassinate Satchel. (The film is largely told in flashback as Broughton is interrogated by her MI6 supervisor Eric Gray, played by Toby Jones. CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld, played by John Goodman, joins the interrogation despite Broughton's objections.)
As soon as she lands in West Berlin, Broughton's cover is blown. The Russians attempt to kidnap her, though both David Percival and a French agent named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) are also on her tail. Percival picks Broughton up after she overcomes the Russians. Percival - who works both sides of the Berlin Wall and deals in counterfeit goods - is immediately a suspect to be Satchel, especially when Broughton finds a photograph of Percival and Gasciogine after Percival lied that they had never met. Meanwhile, Bakhtin announces to the Watchmaker that he intends to sell the List. Percival kills Bakhtin and takes the List, as Percival has completely gone into business for himself and forsaken his allegiance to MI6.
However, a Stasi officer named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) intends to defect to the West with his family and has seen and memorized the List. Broughton's mission becomes a quest to help smuggle Marsan, whom the Russians want dead as a traitor, over the Wall. As Broughton escorts Spyglass, Percival makes his move and shoots Spyglass in the middle of a crowded public demonstration once he sees Spyglass' family to safety (because Percival couldn't have another copy of the List in the open, which Spyglass could provide). In the film's centerpiece action sequence, Broughton fights and kills several Russians to protect Spyglass but it's all in vain; she fails when Spyglass, already gravely injured from being shot, drowns in the river.
Meanwhile, Broughton has begun a sexual relationship with Lasalle, who has been following Percival's activities and took photographs of Percival killing Bakhtin and taking the List for himself. Lasalle, a rookie agent, foolishly calls Percival and tells him she has evidence against him. For her part, Broughton discovers a bug planted by Percival in her coat, allowing him to overhear most of her conversations in Berlin. Percival promptly murders Lasalle in her flat, and in his final confrontation with Broughton, Percival reveals he isn't Satchel and taunts her that he knows all about her before she executes him. With Percival dead, Broughton acquires the List, her mission complete. But not quite.