The Old Guard
by Albert DeSantis
The Old Guard on Netflix has a huge hurtle to overcome inasmuch that its really, really difficult to watch the movie without automatically comparing it to the classic action/fantasy film The Highlander. Old Guard also concerns immortals battling across the centuries, but Highlander did it way cooler with lightning beheadings, proclaiming, “There can be only one!” and a Queen soundtrack. Old Guard doesn’t do any of that since the immortals here are actually good buddies. This is a pretty dour take on immortality, Highlander had at least dramatic heft and broadswords, but Old Guard is a bit miserable. However, Old Guard does have some messy action splatter, interesting visuals and mostly solid performances. Since new action movies are in short supply lately, Old Guard does fill a particular need even as it is probably way too pompous for its own good.
Andy (Charlize Theron) runs around the globe doing mercenary for hire work with her comrades in arms, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). What they try to keep hidden is that they have been alive for centuries, changing their identity and able to rebound from any fatal injury in mere seconds. Unfortunately, a job working for the mysterious Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) goes wrong and their secret is exposed as the greedy pharmaceutical developer, Merrick (Harry Melling), wants to capture the immortals for study. Further complicating matters is when the crew discovers a new immortal, Nile (Kiki Layne), a US solider who has suddenly uncovered her powers and they want her to join their merry band of immortal mercs.
There is a lot of jawing about backstory and flashbacks in this movie, however that is to be expected as any story about long-lived characters inevitably features musing and memories. Nile is the everyman character the story unfurls around however she never is quite interesting enough to make it as lead. As with a lot of everyman characters in fantasy movies, she basically spends a lot of the movie looking awed and annoyed. Layne gets an interesting scene when Nile first realizes her immortality powers in a combat situation but spends rest of the time listening to stories about the past from her very long-lived compatriots.
There are also a lot of shots of Theron looking haunted as a flashback happens, however, Theron is good at looking haunted. Probably the most effective flashback is when Andy remembers one of her earliest immortal friends accused of being a witch and is brutally disposed of. However, the movie never addresses the Highlander beheading question, which is a time-honoured tradition of dealing with immortal characters throughout fantasy fiction. Apparently, people in The Old Guard would just grow another head or something, or maybe end up like Wade in Deadpool 2 as he spent an awkward day growing back his lower half.
Thankfully, the action scenes are satisfyingly crunchy as the immortal characters get shot up, chopped up, and smashed up repeatedly. There is much blood splatter and violence, like when Booker has to let his insides grow back after being attacked with a grenade and the first time the crew gets up after being riddled with bullets is a fantastic visual. There’s an airplane based fistfight between Andy and Nile which doubles as the characters introducing themselves to each other, which is a bit of a cliché but nicely fast. Things get better in the final action scene which features mayhem as the characters shoot their way through an office tower to reach the corporate bad guy at the top, and the way the confrontation ends is shocking.
Theron shows her character is worn out by centuries of death and she is very impressive in the action scenes. As for the other members of her crew, Kenzari and Marinelli compliment each other as their immortal characters have fallen in love and they get in a solid bit where they manage to dupe baddies into letting their guard down. Schoenaerts as Booker basically delivers a lot of exposition as he mopes about the curse of immortality. Ejiofor’s Copley lets Ejiofor look mysterious however the more the movie reveals about Copley the less interesting he becomes. By the end of the movie he gets to be the corkboard conspiracy crazy with strings drawing lines between the immortals’ interventions in the last 150 years of history. Harry Potter alum Melling gets back to his tormentor roots like when he played Dudley Dursley but instead of tormenting Harry Potter he ends up tormenting immortals in the name of profit. Almost 20 years later from Potter, Melling is still great at being a sadistic jerk towards people.
The Old Guard does have some decent action scenes which makes things appropriately messy which befits a story about immortal badass warriors. Although the tone is more dour than cool which makes the stuff in between the action a bit of a drag. But whenever the movie gets a bit dull, usually in a few minutes someone gets shot in the face and gets back up which is cool enough.
The Old Guard
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Starring: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Luca Marinelli, Marwan Kenzari and Matthias Schoenaerts