At a time when DC and Marvel tentpoles seem like a product of the distant past, largely thanks to a pandemic-prone summer that’s left us all strangely blockbuster-less, but also in no small part, due to crushing superhero fatigue, a film like ‘The Old Guard’ feels like a breath of fresh air.
An adaptation of a lesser-known Image Comics property of the same name, written by Eisner Award-winning Greg Rucka, who also penned the screenplay, Netflix’s ‘The Old Guard’ can easily be mistaken for a died-in-the-wool action bonanza. But what makes the Gina Prince-Blythewood (‘Love & Basketball’, ‘Beyond the Lights’) film tick are its quieter moments, revealing the close camaraderie and eternal struggles of the titular ‘Old Guard’, a group of immortal warriors doing their bit to end injustice across the centuries.
Led by Charlize Theron’s Andromache of Scynthia, aka Andy, the group at the beginning includes three other members: Booker (Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts),
Nicolo (Italian actor Luca Marinelli) and Joe (Tunisian-Dutch actor Marwan Kenzari). While Booker is the ‘youngest’ of the group, having been around since the Napoleonic Wars, Nicolo and Joe met each other during the Crusades on opposite sides of the bloody war that took place in the Middle Ages. But all of them seem like newborn babies when compared to Andy, who’s been around for millennia and is more than 6,000 years old.
Having fought and lived through countless wars and, more importantly, having lost more loved ones than she cares to remember, Andy is understandably getting sick of it all, especially when the world seemed to be “getting worse” as the years progressed, humanity failing to learn from its blood-soaked mistakes. And to make matters worse, 21st Century technology, including smartphones and increased surveillance, means keeping your immortality secret is getting harder by the day.
So when an evil big pharma corporation blows their cover, Andy is ready to walk away from it all, until a freshly-minted immortal turns up on their radar — a young US Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne, the breakout star of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’). In Nile, Andy finds a whole new challenge and purpose.
Prince-Blythewood’s ‘The Old Guard’ is not above genre trappings but she does elevate them by bringing her unique sensibilities to the source material. You’d think that by letting her immortals sit with their trauma and helping them put words to those feelings, she’d be detracting from what is largely a fists-and-guns fest. But what it really does is highlight the group’s centuries-long camaraderie in a way that feels believable and sincere.
It also helps that the film managed to snag a cast that would elevate any movie they’re a part of, especially Theron who is most likely the greatest action hero of our time. When Theron’s Andy switches out her guns for a trusty battle-axe, there are literal tingles.
Theron’s ability to disappear into any role she’s given works also to help her co-stars cut to the emotional meat of the story. And it’s particularly seen between Theron and Layne as the old and the new are pitted against each other. A wild sparring session on a cargo aeroplane between the two characters is the stuff of action lovers’ dreams. Fight coordinator Danny Hernadez did well in balancing Theron’s Andy’s 6,000-year warrior training against Layne’s character’s fairly-new military training.
But where the film really loses its steam is a ridiculous soundtrack that injects trendy pop tunes at pivotal turns, completely taking the viewer out of the moment, and which will surely feel dated in less than a year. We many never understand why musical numbers are increasingly replacing actual background scoring, but hopefully, it’s a trend that will die out soon.
The cliffhanger ending to the movie also sets up an interesting premise for a sequel, which, by the popularity of the original, should be a shoo-in. Artfully choreographed fight scenes, hefty performances and fleshed-out lore t makes ‘The Old Guard’ the best action movie of the year so far (Chris Hemsworth’s ‘Extraction’ included).
Don’t miss it
‘The Old Guard’ is available to stream on Netflix.