Netflix’s The Old Guard Review: Theron leads a new kind of immortal army
Looking to be Netflix’s big summer blockbuster, director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s adaptation of Greg Rucka’s comic book The Old Guard creates a lot of intrigue in the gritty and bloody world of immortal soldiers it presents, but ultimately suffers from too much set-up.
The film follows a group of soldiers throughout time that have found out that they cannot die and choose to secretly travel the world to stay out of the public eye. Andy (Charlize Theron), also known as Andromache of Scythia, is leader of group and has existed for so long that her former life is truly a distant memory. The rest of the group is made up of Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), a French soldier who fought under Napoleon, and Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), two men who were originally on opposing sides during The Crusade but ended up falling in love after they found that they had the same fate. One day after a deal gone wrong, the group finds a new immortal named Nile (Kiki Layne), a US Marine serving in Afghanistan, and they find themselves in covert chess match with a former CIA agent named Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a young pharma CEO name Merrick (Harry Melling) who want to utilize their immortality.
Personally, after watching the movie, The Old Guard feels like a movie that’s a little misrepresented with the kind of comic book movie that it is. If you’re going into this movie thinking that it’s going to be a complete summer ass kicking-fest, you’re likely going to leave disappointed. Watching Theron here is not like watching her in something like Atomic Blonde. The action of The Old Guard is pretty great and a strongly unique deviation from what most mainstream comic book adaptations are offering by going a more R-rated route. It’s certainly not afraid to let the blood and guts fly and it can hold nothing back because of its characters’ immortality. Not to mention, Joe performs one of the most badass kills on Merrick’s head of security. The only real issue is that the action really occurs in the beginning and end of the film, leaving at least over an hour of talking and character development that could disappoint those looking for an action-packed summer event movie. However, none of this means that The Old Guard is a bad movie – far from it actually.
The Old Guard makes up for its lack of action with some great characters and world-building that’s surprisingly compelling. The way the film tackles immortality is very unique and is incredibly character driven. While the group comes back to life pretty quickly, they still feel the pain and impact of dying and it’s drastically impacted their views on life. It’s easy to see how disillusioned Andy has become because of her immortality and how she’s sort of lost hope after seeing so many atrocities across time. She’s existed so long that she’s forgotten the good of humanity and has become consumed by her fears of suffering the same fate as a former member of her army – Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo). It’s crazy how the film creates fates and fears even worse than death and focuses on how the things these immortals have left behind in their old lives with Booker and Niles’ stories. The film’s cynical view of death also creates some great moments where Andy and the other immortals aren’t even scared of death threats from enemies and there’s a great twist about their “immortality” that come into play that makes every death after it a little more suspenseful because it could be their last.
The film also builds a great history with these characters that establishes a very intriguing lore and emotional stakes. There’s a great sequence where Copley discloses the historical impact that Andy has had on the world through her actions and the people she’s saved that’s fascinating to see. There’s also a moment where Booker opens up about his old family and it plays a strong part into motivations he has later in the film that are very interesting. Even just thinking about Joe and Nick’s relationship and all of the hardships and backlash they’ve likely faced throughout the years adds so much rich history to the group. There’s actually a great moment where Joe tells off an enemy soldier for mockingly asking if Nick was his “boyfriend” and his dialogue about how much Nick means to him is incredibly genuine and is so meaningful because of how much they been through. Overall, the performances are really good with Theron and Schoenaerts being the big standouts for me.
There’re some aspects that I wish the film delved into more surrounding their immortality as it creates questions the film never really answers. For instance, we the group get shot and stabbed a lot, but I kept wondering what the extent of their immortality would be if they got dismembered. Would they like regrow limbs, come back together like The Iron Giant, have to be stitched back together, or just be dead? However, the film never really plays around with this idea or utilizes the immortality for some recklessly gross fun. Frankly, the film desperately needed to take more risks at times as the film’s take on immortality and cool world-building only work for so long. The overall story is kind of bland, the villains are incredibly dull, and there’s way too much set-up and hinting for a sequel we might never see. Also, the music is way too in your face and gives the film a made for TV feel that it doesn’t need.
While The Old Guard isn’t necessarily the big summer blockbuster that it has been promoted as, it’s still a solid film that utilizes it’s fascinating immortality concept, intriguing world-building, and great lineup of characters to have some solid franchise potential. Frankly, it’s actually piqued my interest in looking into the original comic by Rucka and that’s always a good sign of a good comic adaptation.