Comic book superhero movies have been popular for long enough now that Hollywood studios have turned to the less well-known properties in an effort to launch new potential franchises, and The Old Guard falls into this category. Based on the same-named comic book series created by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández, the movie follows a group of mercenaries who are actually ageless immortals that heal from all their wounds – even those that would be fatal. Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, Cloak & Dagger) directs the movie from a script penned by Rucka himself. What The Old Guard lacks in well-paced, tightly plotted story, it more than makes up for with compelling characters and slick, thrilling fight scenes.
The Old Guards follows Andy (Charlize Theron), a thousands-of-years-old immortal warrior and her group of fellow ageless fighters: Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). When their secret is discovered by former CIA agent Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the group finds themselves on the run from being captured and tortured by pharmaceutical company CEO Merrick (Harry Melling), who wants to discover the secret of their immortality. To make matters more complicated, a new immortal has awakened, U.S. Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne), who Andy must track down and induct into their group. With Nile resistant to the idea of her immortality and Merrick’s forces closing in, it remains to be seen if Andy and her warriors will be able to escape a fate worse than death.
Rucka’s story for The Old Guard follows a fairly standard format for sci-fi/fantasy properties, where the audience follows a character new to the world as a way of introducing the rules. Further, Nile’s arc to becoming a hero, where she’s reluctant at first, and Andy’s jaded mentor, are similarly familiar to those who are well acquainted with these kinds of stories. Still, the world Rucka has constructed in The Old Guard is a fascinating one, and he deftly pulls back the curtain slowly, so that viewers don’t have to sit through too much exposition all at once. Rucka’s script also effectively uses every bit of world-building to further develop the characters, and add some emotional texture to their lives as immortals. However, these quiet moments of exposition and character development tend to slow down the movie too much at times, dragging down the pace of the action film to a near-standstill. While this may work for some viewers, others will find themselves getting distracted.
It doesn’t help that when The Old Guard has an action scene, the fight choreography and Prince-Bythewood’s directing is so riveting, it’s impossible to look away. Because Andy and her fellow fighters have been warriors for centuries, they’re comfortable using all kinds of weapons, from modern guns to swords and battle axes, and The Old Guard puts that to good use. What’s perhaps even more unique is the choreography of the group, which is done in such a way that Andy, Booker, Joe and Nicky fight as if they’re four parts of a whole weapon. It’s incredible to watch because action movies rarely feature such choreography, but it makes sense for their characters since they’ve been fighting together for centuries – it’s only natural they’d be just as aware of each other as they are of their own limbs. This attention to detail in Prince-Bythewood’s directing is what elevates The Old Guard’s fight scenes above and beyond many other action movies.
For their parts, the cast of The Old Guard also works incredibly well together to bring these compelling characters to life. Theron has proven her skill as an action star in the past, particularly in Mad Max: Fury Road, and she brings that same badass energy to Andy in The Old Guard. Layne, who plays Andy’s new “recruit” Nile, is also a force to be reckoned with, holding her own alongside Theron and the rest of the cast. The two are the undeniable leads of The Old Guard, but Kenzari and Marinelli are standouts as Joe and Nicky. The two bring plenty of heart and comic relief to the movie, which is much needed to balance out the seriousness of Andy and Nile – though they have their light-hearted moments as well. Schoenaerts, as the other member of the group, also has his moments, though he’s given less to work with; the same goes for Ejiofor and Melling. Altogether, The Old Guard’s cast works seamlessly together to bring entertaining and emotional character dynamics to the screen.
Ultimately, The Old Guard offers plenty of exciting action and fun character beats to keep viewers hooked even when the story screeches to a halt. It’s an excellent escape for fans of the comics, superhero movies and anything with slick action scenes. And with The Old Guard releasing on Netflix, audiences still staying at home and avoiding movie theaters can easily tune in to this perfect summer popcorn movie. Though the film may devote a little too much time to setting up a potential sequel, that can be said of almost every franchise starter these days – and there’s sure to be many fans dying to see what happens next with this group of immortals. (Studios also should be knocking down Prince-Bythewood’s door to direct more superhero/action movies after this.) In the end, anyone even vaguely interested in the premise or seeing Theron in another action movie would do well with checking out The Old Guard.
The Old Guard is now streaming on Netflix. It is 118 minutes long and rated R for sequences of graphic violence and language.
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