The Old Guard, based on a 2017 Image comic series of the same name has landed at Netflix with mixed results. The highly-acclaimed comic about a group of immortal soldiers who use their unique gift of never dying to fight for those who can find – and afford – their services.
The Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball) directed film focuses on the team’s de facto leader Andromache of Scythia (Charlize Theron) – Andy for short – who, after centuries of fighting and trying to help humanity, has decided they can all fend for themselves. We catch up with her at the end of her year long sabbatical when her old team (Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, and Luca Marinelli) decide it’s time to get back to work. During their first mission back they are ambushed and gunned down. Their little trick of shaking off multiple shots to the head is caught on camera and a sinister foe is now tracking them down.
Charlize Theron whose resurgence into the action genre – thanks to Fury Road and Atomic Blonde – is at it again, but this time all the fun and creativity is nowhere to be found. There is plenty of action happening, wave after wave of bad guys wearing the same tactical outfits, all meeting the same fate. While there are a few well-choreographed sequences, the action falters and becomes bland, not ramping up in style or substance.
One of the issues of the film is the heroes have lives that have lasted millennia, and have had stories that intersect with hundreds – if not thousands – of historical battles and dates. Yet not one of them is seen, instead we are very much stuck in the present, with only the briefest of flashbacks and a red string board of photos to fill in those gaps. This very epic story loses a lot of its scope with such a narrow lens.
The villains are also so poorly conceived it is hard to believe the group is in any real peril. Chiwetel Ejiofor is criminally underused as the man who is tracking them down, and Harry Melling is so hammy and over the top, with all the menace of a Disney channel bad guy.
There is some hope to be found in the acting. While Theron seems to be playing a more apathetic version of her character in Atomic Blonde, she, and the rest of her group is solid. Marwan Kenzari particularly stands out, probably better known for his role has Jafar in Disney’s live action take of Aladdin, it is a crime he is not offered more leading roles. Kenzari plays the romantic and fierce partner to Marinelli with great gusto.
Relative newcomer Kiki Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) also stars as the newest member among the immortals, only recently discovering she cannot die after having her throat slashed while in Afghanistan. She is taken in by Andy and the group as they help guide her into her new life. Kiki’s struggle of accepting her immortality and saying goodbye to her old life does bring some humanity and weight to an otherwise fantastical story.
The concept is a lot of fun, and if we got to play around in the history books with them, this could have been a homerun. The overlong runtime and slow moving story hold back what should be superhero action franchise. The writer, Greg Rucka, who also wrote the comic – chose to keep the story small and contained. If there is a sequel one can only hope it is not nearly as boring.
2.5 out of 5