Charlize Theron leads a group of immortal mercenaries who find their centuries-old secret at risk of exposure when a shadowy threat aims to capitalize on the group’s unique abilities. The Old Guard is an action-packed thrill-fest, the likes of which haven’t been seen this summer due to the global pandemic and shutdown of cinemas. But thanks to Netflix, fans of bullet-filled popcorn fare finally have something to get excited about.
The film follows an immortal squad in the present day with occasional flashbacks explaining how key members have slain their enemies throughout history. Aside from the fast-paced action and violence, The Old Guard raises questions of mortality and one’s greater purpose in life—although these points don’t go deep enough for anyone to mistake the film for anything more than an adrenaline rush.
Andy’s (Theron) tight-knit team is shaken up by the discovery of a new one of their kind called Nile (KiKi Layne), a US Marine mortally wounded while on patrol in Afghanistan. The team locate her through a sort of shared vision at the same time Nile is discovering abilities, and as it’s been over 200 years since they’ve last found anyone else like them, the team go in search of a potential new recruit.
Concurrently, the team is being hunted by James Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a former CIA agent who is personally motivated to see the squad’s unique DNA translated into a cure for ALS, dementia, and other diseases. Copley is being bankrolled by big pharma CEO Merrick (Harry Melling), a man with seemingly endless resources and disposable hired guns committed to pursuing Andy’s team wherever they may hide.
The Old Guard is a competent summer action movie, but there’s nothing terribly original within the plot and its twists are quite obvious. There is plenty of well-choreographed gunfights and witty remarks to make the film fly by, but the vital ingredient to making it work is Charlize Theron.
Theron is easily one of the most talented actors working today. She’s been nominated for three Academy Awards (winning one for 2003’s Monster) and six Golden Globes (again winning for Monster), but in recent years she’s been proving just how good she is as an action star thanks to Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Atomic Blonde (2017).
These are the type of movies that aren’t likely to add more trophies to the 44-year old actress’s shelving, but she’s absolutely killer when it comes to these types of films. Unlike some of her contemporaries (like Milla Jovovich perhaps?), Theron is more discerning when it comes to the scripts she chooses and the directors she wants to work work. Here, she clearly wanted to help Gina Prince-Bythewood’s transition from dramas like Beyond the Lights (2014) and The Secret Life of Bees (2008) to announce herself as a gifted action filmmaker.
Andy (short for Andromache of Scythia) is the oldest of her group and thus the most seasoned warrior and a leader who carries a large amount of emotional baggage. Her scars can’t be seen on the outside, but Andy is clearly tormented with blood on her hands from centuries of conflict. As the film unfolds, it becomes clear that she’s lost herself in the senselessness of the violence and her unending passage through time.
Defeating Merrick and his private army is merely one obstacle for The Old Guard. The bigger issue swirls around Andy’s inability to make sense of it all. Why don’t they die? What purpose have they served? The audience is never challenged to take these questions too seriously, alas, but an answer of sorts is offered in the film’s closing moments.
The Old Guard is based on a graphic novel by Greg Rucka, who also wrote the screenplay. He’s a familiar face at the San Diego Comic-Con but is only now getting a shot at Hollywood success in his fifties. In addition to The Old Guard, he has two other stories (Lazurus and Queen and Country) that are also developed for TV and film. Rucka’s writing isn’t groundbreaking (this movie has clear parallels to 1986’s Highlander), but he hits the right beats to tell a story with appeal to fans of action and fantasy.
Perhaps more significantly, The Old Guard suggests Netflix may be finding its footing when it comes to developing of original films. More so than its rivals, Netflix seems to have found a winning formula for adapting popular graphic novels—see The Umbrella Academy and Locke and Key recently. In a time where the lasting impact of cinema closures is still unknown, that could be refreshing news for bookworms and nerds everywhere.
USA | 2020 | 125 MINUTES | 2.35:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
director: Gina Prince-Bythewood.
writer: Greg Rucka (based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka & Leandro Fernández).
starring: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Van Veronica Ngo, Matthias Schoenaerts & Chiwetel Ejiofor.