“The Old Guard”- Movie Review
So here we are, sitting in our homes, keeping clean, having endless rounds of Zoom meetings, still waiting for the world to return to somewhat normalcy. And devoted moviegoers like me are still aching to return to the theaters. Sadly, it looks like the world is going to be stuck in place for a while, so all we can do is keep waiting. That doesn’t mean we have to be bored while we’re waiting. Thankfully, streaming services have been dishing out new content left and right, so we can at least be entertained while waiting for our lives to resume.
So far, Netflix has been the king of content-spitting during quarantine. Their latest action flick was adapted from the pages of Greg Rucka’s comic book of the same name (Rucka also wrote the screenplay). Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard tells the story of a group of immortal mercenaries (lead by Charlize Theron) who have made it their mission to help people around the world. They discover a new immortal (Kiki Layne), and recruit her to the team. Meanwhile, a corrupt pharmaceutical corporation, led by greedy CEO Dudley Dursley (a.k.a. Harry Melling) has a mission of his own- to harvest the DNA of these immortal soldiers and capture the group by any means necessary.
Something I didn’t realize before going into this was that the director, Prince-Blythwood, had also helmed films like Love & Basketball– which I was borderline obsessed with in junior high- and Beyond the Lights. In fact, most if not all of the movies she’s helmed seem to stay within the boundaries of realist dramas, which makes The Old Guard her first foray into the action genre. And as a first foray goes, it’s pretty entertaining.
The film has the hallmarks of a superhero origin story- a fascinating premise, an equally interesting group of characters, a cheesy villain and the newbie through whose eyes we explore the world of the super-abled. Individually, these elements differ in terms of how well they’re executed. Though as a whole, they vibe well enough together to create an enjoyable viewing experience. The action sequences are a lot of fun, and are thankfully filmed in such a way that you’re able to make out every inch of the choreography. I will say that the music chosen to play over them- songs with actual lyrics attached, not just instrumentals- is a little odd. On the one hand, having regular music play over the fight scenes make them look like something out of a music video. At the same time, I liked it. It didn’t detract or distract from the quality of these scenes. It’s just that the inclusion of the songs was obviously a bit weird.
Between this, Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde, I thoroughly believe Charlize Theron is our current Queen of Cinematic Badassery. Regardless of what you subjectively think of her films, there is no doubt that she puts her all into these types of roles, and this role is no exception. Theron is great at the leader of the immortals. She exudes a commanding presence, a superb physicality, and an emotional weariness that makes her more identifiable. The rest of the cast is good too. Kiki Layne and Matthias Schoenaerts are decent, Chiwetel Ejiofor is solid. Everyone- well, most everyone- does give a good performance. Theron just takes the cake.
But although she delivers the strongest performance, she is by no means the best character. That distinction goes to two others- Joe and Nicky (played by Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli respectively). Joe and Nicky are, for me personally, the shining stars of the movie. They are immortals, members of Theron’s team of mercenaries. They’re also a couple, a same-sex mixed-race couple who is unabashedly and rapturously in love. Bravo to Kenzari, Marinelli and the filmmakers for bringing these characters to life. Bravo to making them feel human. Their relationship felt 100 percent genuine through and through, to the point where I found myself getting worried about their well-being. What’s even better is that their very existence within the story feels genuine as well. So many times I’ve seen entertainment media try to incorporate LGBTQ+ representation and either fail completely, half-ass it, or do it in a way that’s phony and contrived. The Old Guard doesn’t fall into any of those traps. Joe’s and Nicky’s relationship appears naturally, no aspect of it is hidden, glossed over, or fetishized. Their love just is. I’d love to see more of them and explore their history. Whether that’s in the form of a sequel, a spin-off, a novelization, a comic book, it doesn’t matter. I want it. I adore these two.
Can’t say the same about the villain, though. By far the weakest aspect of the film, the central antagonist is so cartoonish in nature that it doesn’t quite mesh tonally with the rest of the narrative. It’s a familiar trope: the sociopathically greedy CEO and the evil corporation that threatens to harm our heroes while also keeping up the facade of doing good by trying to cure the incurable. After that sentence you’re probably counting the number of movies, books and TV shows you’ve seen utilize the trope. The film doesn’t do anything to elevate its antagonists out of this trope status. Perhaps they’re written more interestingly in the comic, but here, the villain role is bland. Harry Melling is trying with what he’s given to work with, and I can’t say that his performance is bad. His character just isn’t written well.
The only thing that prevents The Old Guard from being great is its minimal development of its world. The film left me wanting more, but in different ways. On the one hand, that’s good. It means the film did its job and did it well enough to make me want to see a continuation of the story. Then again, I also wanted more from the film I’d already seen. The script could’ve used more meat on its bones. We know just enough about the characters to get invested in their plight, but I wish the film explored their backstories more, and went further into the rules of their world.
As is, the film is another good, fun action movie. It’s probably one of the better ones Netflix has put out recently. Despite its more cartoonish moments and lackluster aspects in the script, the movie succeeds in what it sets out to do- provide pure escapist entertainment. If you come across it on Netflix- which should be impossible to do considering it’s been trending since it’s release- definitely check it out.