The Old Guard is a fun and exciting new action movie starring Charlize Theron, that premiered on Netflix this weekend. Based on the graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez, set in the present day (with some flashbacks), the story follows a group of immortal warriors led by Charlize Theron’s Andy, short for her real name Andromache The Scythian. Andy’s team/army/surrogate family includes Booker, the youngest member of the team at a little more than 200 years old, as well as Joe and Nicky, a devoted couple who met fighting on opposite sides of The Crusades. Andy’s age is never definitively revealed, but she’s ancient, at least several thousand years old (according to IMDB, in a recent interview Charlize Theron revealed that her character is at least 6,000 years old).
For reasons they don’t fully understand, Andy and her team are among a very small, but very formidable group of people, who have all woken up one day to find that they’re no longer aging and cannot be killed. Riddled with bullets from an assault rifle, burned alive, drowning, explosions, it doesn’t matter how they die, but whether it takes a few seconds or a few minutes they always come back. They even have accelerated healing which will rapidly repair smaller injuries. There’s one catch though, despite the fact that these individuals have lived for thousands of years, one day for seemingly no rhyme or reason, they will get killed and not wake up. One day it is simply “their time”, as they put it. It’s different for each of them, but whether it’s after 500 years or 5,000 years, one their immortality will simply end. They learned this lesson first hand. The team has had other immortal members who’s time has run out. So each time they die, they wonder if this is the time they don’t wake back up.
The immortals have a tenuous psychic link to one another, causing them tooccasionally share memories of past events through dreams. Most importantly, this link allows them to become instantly aware of when another immortal is activated. It’s an extremely jarring and vivid psychic experience because an new immortal is so rare. They’re all given mental pieces of an image that they collectively put together to identify and locate their latest brother or sister in arms.
In this case, the new immortal is a young African-American woman in her early twenties named Nile (played by Kiki Layne), serving in the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Afghanistan. While on a mission to find a dangerous terrorist, Nile’s throat it cut open and dies in the arm of one of her fellow soldiers. When Nile wakes up in a medical tent, having recovered from a mortal neck wound without a scratch, she doesn’t know what the fuck is happening to her. Fortunately (I guess?) Andy, heads off to find Nile, get her the fuck out of Afghanistan, and give her the 411 on how her life as she knew it, is over. From there we’re off to the races.
I haven’t seen the actress who plays Nile in many other projects, but I liked her a lot in The Old Guard. Nile, naturally, has some serious questions for Andy and she expects to get answers. Because the audience will have many of the same questions as Nile, this is a decent way for the film to get some exposition out of the way. It’s not the most creative storytelling method in the world, but it works well enough. Plus, I enjoyed the scenes of the relatively idealistic Nile bouncing off of Charlize Theron’s much more jaded Andy.
There were two aspects of this film that I thought were particularly well done. The first was the surprising amount of time that was spent on character work. Don’t get me wrong, this movie isn’t gonna be winning any awards, but for what it is they spent more time investing the audience in the characters that I thought they would. One of my favorite things about this movie was the existential crisis Charlize Theron’s character deals with through in the film. Andy is by far the oldest of all the immortals, thousands of years at least. For their entire lives Andy and her team, both living and the ones they’ve lost, have been warriors who fought for what they believed to be right. Mankind’s blood soaked angel on it’s shoulder. After all the death, all the fighting, the wars, the people she’s lost, Andy has just had enough. She’s walked the earth for thousands of years, trying to protect humanity to make it something more. But when she looks around at the world she sees today, it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse. This is the dark side of immortality, the other side of the coin that people don’t think about. Sure, it sounds great on paper, to never die, to live forever. What good is living forever if you have nothing worth fighting for, nothing to live for? Everything and everyone around you eventually dying and leaving you alone again. Immortality can be a prison worse than death (and without going into spoiler territory here, believe me there are seats far, far worse than death).
This movie also answers one of the greatest questions in all of fiction: what happened to Dudley Dursley after the Harry Potter movies? Apparently he became the evil head of a pharmaceutical corporation focused on slowing (or stopping) the aging process! He’s looking to cell in mortality in a pill form to the richest of the rich. I love the Harry Potter films and I want to see the actors do well, but actor Harry Melling as Merrick, the films villain doesn’t stand out among the 10 million other versions of the “Evil Billionaire CEO”. This is by far the weakest and most least interesting aspect of the film. However, Nile, Andy and her team of bad-asses needed to bunch of guys to kill at the end of the movie and who better to supply that than a piece of shit pharmaceutical CEO who looks like Harry Potter’s abusive cousin?
There is one bright spot in the evil pharmaceutical company storyline. Chiwetel Ejiofor in small role as a former CIA operative who hires the team for a job that goes real south, real quick. His character provides the only heart in his part of the movie and like several characters in the film, is more morally complex than you think.
Like I said before, there were two things in this movie that I thought were done particularly well, the second being the action and fight choreography. In fact, most characters in this movie are more fleshed out than you might expect going into it. It’s one of the things that helps The Old Guard stand out from the pack. Andy’s team of fellow immortals could have been just 3 bad-asses it’s one or two lines covering their backstory. The fact that they took the time to put just a little bit more effort into it, makes this a cut above the rest of similar films. Things like Joe and Nicky‘s deep and passionate love for one another that still burns bright despite the millennia they’ve spent together. When Booker tells Nile that attempting to stay in the lives of the people they love, will bring her and her family only suffering, heartbreak, and ruin, his anguish makes it clear he’s speaking from experience. The film wisely gives it’s characters enough meat on their backstory and their personalities to make them interesting to watch, so you actually give a shit about what’s happening to them. It’s a lesson that way too many action films have forgotten. The difference between a decent or good action movie and great action movie, is cast of characters that you care about.
This is an action film after all and the fight and combat sequences stood out to me as the second big thing that really impressed me about The Old Guard. With so many fantastic examples of innovation and creativity in action and fight choreography, it’s can be difficult for any movie to stand out from the crowd and show the audience something that feels fresh and unique. The Old Guard has multiple impressive fight scenes, using a combination of modern guns and old world weapons like swords and axes. What’s so cool about the way the immortals fight, is that over centuries of combat, they’ve become masters at virtually every weapon and fighting style. So they don’t just use multiple weapons, they use those weapons to complement one another. Assault rifles, swords, and fists whirl together in a way that each weapon’s is enhanced by the use of the other. A gun is perfectly used to take out a target in one move while also setting up an ax to take out another target three moves later. It’s a really cool style of fight choreography that really makes this team feel dangerous. These people have been fighting the worst armies in the history of mankind and they fucked them up on a regular basis. Your best bet would encountering one of these mortals would be to drop your weapon and run like hell on the other direction and even that might not be enough to save you. There’s a scene less than half hour into the film where we see the team really cut loose for the first time in combat and we get to see exactly what these people are capable of and it’s fucking awesome.
A sequel to The Old Guard is already in the works. Apparently this was envisioned by Netflix and Co-creator/writer Greg Rucka been talk of making this a trilogy of films on Netflix and I hope that story turns out to be true because I enjoyed the hell out of The Old Guard. I definitely recommend giving this one a watch.
The Old Guard: 8.5/10
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