Recommendation: Interesting take on action filmmaking, worldly themes, and a franchise in the making, the Charlize-led immortal action flick lands solidly but not perfectly. 7/10.
IMDB Synopsis: A covert team of immortal mercenaries are suddenly exposed and must now fight to keep their identity a secret just as an unexpected new member is discovered.
The Old Guard, Netflix’s latest action vehicle, is a comic-to-screen adaptation that chronicles the affairs of a group of immortal mercenaries. And as much of the film is about the “not able to be killed” part of being immortal, the film focuses as much on its characters’ weariness and solitude from living on the run for a millennia. But also being a Netflix production, The Old Guard has some wild action, albeit very violent, and doesn’t slow down long enough to allow for people to second screen. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (of Love & Basketball fame), the film doesn’t feel like a complete retread of the genre, and the veteran cast sells the gravitas as much as the gunplay.
The Old Guard is a group of four mercenaries led by Andy (Charlize Theron) who have been around for centuries, fighting for what they think will right the wrongs of the world. But as with any movie set in modern times, the villain named capitalism rears it’s head, and the group is being targeted by Merrick Pharmaceutical and it’s megalomaniac CEO (Henry Melling). But as the group has gone to ground, trying to snuff out the CIA agent who sold them out—Copley played by Chiwetel Ejiofor—they discover another immortal. US Marine Nile (Kiki Layne), is a by the books, combat operative who was KIA’d on tour, until she wasn’t.
Unconcerned with continuity, Andy jetpacks from Morocco to Afghanistan to Paris (with a few action sequences) where she rendezvous with the group; Nile in tow. During one of the film’s brief interludes, we learn how old the mercs are (from from 1812, some from what looks like Xena’s time), the crappy part of being immortal (losing everyone you love), and that they genuinely are a pretty tight little gang. The film then jumps right back into an action showcase for Charlize to show off her brutal fighting methods. At this point in her career, it’s fair to say Charlize is untouchable.
The film see-saws between incredibly violent set piece and quiet moments to let the gravitas seep back in. The juxtaposition is effective in both keeping the audience entertained, and showing the film has a little more depth to it than traditional Netflix action fare (see Extraction, Underground 6, and Warrior Nun). While the ending might feel a bit rote, it’s clear the producers are setting up a hopeful franchise. But if the future of superhero-esque action is led by Charlize and Kiki Layne, and features some of the better fight choreography of the year, then by all means.
Find it here on Netflix.
Highlights: Chiwetel Ejiofor is always a delight to see on screen. Kiki Layne’s transition from the sublime If Beale Street Could Talk to a combat marine is remarkable. Charlize in Viking garb in flashbacks axing people left and right.
MVP: It’s a Charlize vehicle, and she shows off why she’s still Hollywood’s leading actress.
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Studio: Netflix // Release date: July 10, 2020 (Amazon)