Film Review: The Old Guard
The Old Guard
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Skydance Media and Denver and Delilah
Streaming on Netflix 7.10
For their new Charlize Theron–starring action film, The Old Guard, Netflix created the the most expensive and unique market campaign ever by funding and releasing Michael Bay’s abysmal 6 Underground just short of six months prior. There is just enough similarity between the two films that any shortcoming in the latter feels totally inconsequential in comparison, and it’s easy to revel in the sheer joy of the fact that The Old Guard is not directed by Bay. When you add the fact that the last Netflix movie based on a comic book was The Last Days of American Crime, the “it could have been so much worse” factor is quite significant.
The Old Guard are a group of mercenaries who are all secretly centuries-old immortals, led by Andromache of Scythia, aka “Andy” (Theron). They are able to heal from any injury, but are also forced to live alone and avoid relationships to protect their secret. Andy started the group by seeking out other immortals, as they all share the ability to feel and sense each other’s presence when a new one “awakens.” This happens for the first time in well over a hundred years when a young marine named Nile Freeman (Kiki Lane) is killed in Afghanistan, only to come back to life moments later. Andy recruits Nile, but at the same time, a new enemy figures out how to replicate their powers and is hell bent on bringing them in at all costs.
This is a silly film but a very entertaining one. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees) brings a freshness to the film that allows it to overcome all action movie cliches, and she stages the action with precision and flair without distracting the audience by trying to artificially create too many money shots.
It also has some great characters, not the least of which are Joe and Nicky (Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli, respectively), who died while fighting on opposite sides of the Crusades, have since lived—and repeatedly fought and died—at each other’s side and are passionately in love. It’s hard to overstate how well the script (adapted by Greg Ruka from his own comic) handles these characters—seeing a romance that is rooted in friendship and spans for centuries, forming a bond of love that is unfathomably deep, and having it be two gay men is enough to guarantee this movie an immortality of its own.
Theron is right up there with Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves on the list of actors who throw themselves into their action roles with a level of focus and commitment that borders on insanity, and she never ceases to impress me. This character may be second only to Imperator Furiosa in terms of her best action hero roles. KiKi Lane is very likable in the “new kid” role, and Matthias Schoenaerts is almost in Best Supporting Actor territory for the sheer gravity he brings to the role of Booker, Andy’s closest cohort and the most pained member of the group. Chiwetel Ejiofor doesn’t get enough screen time—he almost never does—but he makes the most of what he has. If the pale, gangly villain looks familiar to you, that’s Harry Melling, best known as Dudley Dursley, who used to be known as the most oafish bully associated with Harry Potter until J.K. Rowling decided she wanted to take that title for herself.
The Old Guard isn’t perfect. Its premise feels rather thin at times, and it really does pile on those cliches (“Wait for my signal. You’ll know it when you see it.”). But it’s not only very entertaining: In its best moments, it has a boldness to it that I found to be intoxicating. I would not mind seeing this become the first major movie franchise to emerge under the Netflix banner. If you’re as ready for a new action blockbuster as I was, this may be the most fun two hours you’ll have in July. –Patrick Gibbs