10th July 2020 (Netflix Debut)
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.
Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts
“Life sucks… and then you die!”
Wise words from none other than maniacal Wrestling genius Vince McMahon. But what if permadeath never occurred and life continued to suck while you stick your neck out to continuously save the world? It’s a predicament Charlize Theron finds herself in The Old Guard, now streaming on Netflix.
Theron plays Andy, an immortal warrior who along with three other long-life mercenaries Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) work in secret undertaking some of the most dangerous rescue missions on the planet. But Andy is getting disillusioned with doing the rapidly crumbling state of society and begins to wonder why they risk their lives for a Planet that doesn’t notice or care.
When Andy is told of an emergency mission from an ex-CIA operative to retrieve some children kidnapped in South Sudan, she reluctantly agrees but claims she is ‘done’ after this. Soon into the operation, it becomes clear that this is a set up to expose the group and, more importantly, exploit their abilities by a pharmaceutical company headed up by the ruthless Merrick (Harry Melling).
Shortly after, the quartet discover a new immortal solider, Nile, (KiKi Layne) who sustains an otherwise fatal injury onto to miraculously survive and rapidly heal. Joining their ranks, Nile must come to terms with her newfound responsibility while helping the group eliminate the threat of those who seek to replicate and monetise their power by any means necessary.
Based on the comic series of the same name, The Old Guard is more interested in the combatants than their violent actions. It’s filled with deep questions regarding the themes of morality and mortality. Even though it only provides surface level answers due to clunky scripting, it’s commendable for even posing them in the first place. Theron’s surly Andy understandably grumbles her way through the first Act, but it’s not until a grisly revelation about a past (and I mean past) comrade that we begin to see why she comes across as unapproachable. After buttkicking turn in Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron is back in action with an axe to grind here, throwing henchmen around like dolls and thoroughly convincing in doing so.
Joe and Nicky make for a heartmeltingly sweet couple whose love has survived the ages and a well-intentioned Booker causes potentially irreparable damage to the group when he attempts to do what he thinks is the right thing for a struggling Andy. Fresh-faced newcomer Nile turns up at just the right moment for them all and, in time, finds her footing in the outfit of battle-hardened veterans. These are all characters you care about, even if the stakes are relatively small because of their century-stretching lifespans. Attempts are made to outline some rules to their seemingly unkillable nature, but the more it tries to explain, the less sense it makes.
Supporting cast is somewhat of a mixed bag. Chiwetel Ejiofor as the shady ex-CIA isn’t given enough room to shine, while the film’s main villain in Harry Melling’s quivering Merrick is unquestionably the weakest point of the feature. I imagine it’s difficult to come up with a mortal foe that can go toe-to-toe with those who cannot be killed, but still the thread of a greedy, weedy young pharmaceutical boss seems especially feeble. He’s not the only threat to be found in The Old Guard, with developments between the group and individual dilemmas cropping up to keep things interesting in places where Merrick cannot.
Yes, its focus may be on what makes its soldiers tick, but The Old Guard It isn’t without its action scenes. They’re slickly photographed with some creative kills from the gang, mixing hand-to-hand-to-axe fisticuffs with some expert marksmanship and gun-play. Just as the film feels like it’s been quiet for a little too long, a new batch of disposable guards comes hurtling through the door. It’s deftly paced and never drags its feet, sweeping us off them by taking us to the far reaches of the World and more recognisable locations such as the UK Capital.
For me though, The Old Guard is at its strongest when dabbling in the former lives of the group. All-too-short glimpses of their surviving separately in other periods of history such as having to deal with Witch Trials or riding horseback in epic battles paint a vast and varied backstories and leave enough breadcrumbs to keep me hungry for a teased sequel.
The Old Guard brings new tricks to a tiring superhero genre. It features a tight-knit gang of friends who have visibly been through thick and thin and even with immortality on their side, I still cared about what happened to them. With a tighter script that doesn’t feel the need to audibly explain the easily connectable plot points and more insight into their past battles, The Old Guard could be the franchise Netflix has been looking for to fiercely defend the quality of their Original output.
The Old Guard is now streaming on Netflix.
Theron kicks axe
Close-knit group to care about & glimpses into their history
Thrilling action sequences
Occasionally clunky and derivative script undermines the character development
Villain is weak