THE OLD GUARD
2020, R, 118 mins.
Charlize Theron as Andromache of Scythia / Andy / KiKi Layne as Nile Freeman / Matthias Schoenaerts as Booker / Marwan Kenzari as Yusuf Al-Kaysani / Joe / Luca Marinelli as Nicky / Chiwetel Ejiofor as Copley / Harry Melling as MerrickGina Prince-Bythewood / Written by Greg Rucka, based on his comic book series
The latest Netflix original
film THE OLD GUARD - adapted from the comic book series of the same name -
most definitely doesn't score huge points for originality (the concept of
super powered immortals fighting evil has been the stuff of movie sci-fi
and graphic novels before), but where it does succeed is in how
preposterously entertaining the whole package is in having subversive fun
with its premise set within the context of a modern action thriller.
That, and it tells a fairly solid origin tale that rarely suffers
from the same sort of expositional stiffness of many other genre entries,
not to mention that the film is a hell of a lot more progressive minded
about LGBT characters in a way that would put the MCU and DCEU to absolute
shame. Plus, THE OLD GUARD
reinforces star Chalize Theron as a formidable action hero: she's in
full-on medieval axe swinging/bad guy killing mode throughout, which is
Perhaps most intriguing are
the ideas that THE OLD GUARD's script (provided by the source material's
co-creator here in Greg Rucka) contains about both the ups and downs of
being unkillable...and unkillable for centuries.
Most fiction explores such a power as one that would be
euphorically amazing to possess. And
yes, the immoral super heroes presented here take full advantage of their
God-like abilities (shot...stabbed...broken neck...no problem...it
can all be healed in minutes!), but Rucka's script is surprisingly
thoughtful in its examination of how these extremely old, but still
youthful looking characters have become emotionally rundown with the long
passage of time. This comes
with restless loneliness and the unending pain of seeing mortal friends
get old and die over hundreds of years.
THE OLD GUARD understands the damning curse of immortality, but it
never becomes obtrusively somber, nor does it take itself too
seriously. Make no mistake about it, this is still a well oiled
machine churning out violent comic book mayhem and all forms of
orchestrated chaos while delivering decent world building.
This immortal AVENGERS-esque
team are led by Andy (Theron), who is the oldest of the group and has the
most experience of learning how to use her unique gifts to get an edge in
just about any battle over the course of several centuries.
She hooked up with a pair of fellow immortals and gay lovers in Joe
(Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) way, way back in the
Crusades, whereas their fellow death defying comrade in arms in Booker
(Matthias Schoenaerts) joined their ranks in the 19th Century).
In the present, this team keeps their powers a well guarded secret
while trying to rid the world of all forms of criminal scum, but modern
times and ills across the planet are starting to sully Andy into wanting
to retire from her line of work. As
is the case with so many other stories involving off-the-grid kick ass
action heroes lured back into battle, Andy is convinced to return to her
savoir roots with the appearance of ex-CIA agent Copley (a good, but terribly
underused Chiwetel Ejiofer in a marginalized role), who is smart enough to
learn of Andy and her partners' powers through meticulous historical
research. He tasks the team
with a seemingly simple mission: rescue a bunch of kidnapped girls in the
This all seems like a
painfully routine assignment for Andy's team, but unfortunately for them
all they're doubled crossed by Copley, who's in cahoots with a vile
pharmaceutical CEO named Merrick (Harry Melling, oozing contemptuous
sleaziness) who wants to capture these immortals, research their blood and
DNA, and use that research to sell their healing abilities to the masses
for massive profits. Concurrent
to all of this stress for Andy's team is their discovery of a new immortal
in the form of Nile (KiKi Layne), a ruggedly tough marine that develops a
highly unique ability to mend what should have been a vicious throat slash
in combat. As Andy seeks out
this potential new recruit, she comes to the realization that she's
slowing beginning to lose her own immortality, leaving her highly
vulnerable to enemies large and small that want to end her kind and
exploit them for financial gain.
THE OLD GUARD was directed by
Gina Prince-Bythewood, the first African female filmmaker to helm a sizably
budgeted comic book adaptation. Her
previous credits (LOVE & BASKETBALL and THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES) don't
really hint at her being a suitable fit for this type of material, but I
applaud Netflix's outside of the box thinking and hiring of her.
Not only does she acclimate herself well to all of the standard,
large scaled accoutrements of the super hero genre, but she also displays
an uncommon sensitivity in developing these characters with layers of rich
complexity. She has to
explore all of the particulars of introducing viewers to Andy's team and
explaining who they are, where they came from, and what their end game is
without succumbing to the pratfalls of origin tales.
THE OLD GUARD feels somewhat derivative in terms of its core
premise, as previously mentioned, but it's Prince-Bythwood's uniquely
textured handling of it and the characters contained within that injects
newfound freshness into well worn material.
We've seen tales of immortals before in films, but rarely with this
level of perceptive nuance.
Andy and her team, despite the
utter coolness and convenience of being immortal, all seem mentally broken
down by the vastness of time that has passed them by.
They all just seem...tired, especially Andy, who just wants to
permanently lay low and find some semblance of a quiet and peaceful life
of normalcy outside of her crusading, world saving ways.
She also has a deep personal history of traumatizing emotional
hardships, which is explored largely in flashbacks, one of which involves
her intimate relationship with a female immortal women in Quynh (Van
Veronica Ngo) back in ancient times, but since both were deemed witches by
the norms and attitudes of the era, the latter was taken away and dealt up
an utterly horrifying fate: She was bound and sealed within a massive iron
coffin and thrown into the ocean, leading to her drowning to death and
resurrecting herself...only to drown to death and resurrect
herself...forever, and with no hope of escaping this aquatic tomb.
What an absolutely unspeakably cruel fate for this being, which
highlights one of the themes of THE OLD GUARD of how living forever can be
an eternal horror show for some. Plus,
this also informs Andy's personality and unwillingness to form meaningful
ties with anyone.
And, wow, THE OLD GUARD sure
is more forward thinking about featuring openly homosexual heroes than
anything you'd find in the Disney controlled MCU, for example.
We don't just get tiny, inconsequentially fleeting moments of
pandering tokenism here featuring gay characters that come and are easily
discarded in mere seconds (I'm thinking of you, THE
RISE OF SKYWALKER!). Instead,
THE OLD GUARD portrays its gay lovers in Nicky and Joe with a sensitive
frankness that's simply not a part of other comic book extravaganzas, and
that's something to be respected and admired.
This is all dramatically driven home by the uniformly game and
strong cast assembled here, and Theron, Layne, Kenzari, Marinelli, and
Schoenaerts display such an easygoing and natural camaraderie together on
screen that you'll never doubt for a second that they all aren't BFFs that
have been together for ocean's of time.
I was especially taken in with the whole mentor/pupil relationship
between Andy and Nile, which reaches a boiling point during one of the
film's best sequences involving both of them going toe-to-toe on board a
cargo plane that's jetting them to Andy's secret HQ.
Keep in mind: these immortals can still feel pain and be hurt, but
they heal so hilariously fast that it makes fights like this all the more,
well, frustratingly complicated.