From Atomic Blonde to Mad Max: Fury Road, one of my very favourite cinematic tropes in recent years has been Charlize Theron kicking the absolute shit out of people. She seems to be one of the few actresses of her generation who has been able to jump from action to drama and back again (with a few comedy ventures along the way), and be great on both ends of the spectrum. Breaking the tradition of the last few months, The Old Guard was a picture that didn’t end up on a streaming service by circumstance, but by design. Netflix secured the rights way back in March 2019, remember those carefree, pre apocalyptic days?
Based on a comic book of the same name by Greg Rucka, The Old Guard tells the story of a band of seemingly immortal mercenaries who embark on an obstacle filled revenge mission after they are tricked into accepting a false assignment that threatens their very existence. Hinted to be as old as the Ancient Greeks, group leader Andy (Charlize Theron) welcomes new recruit Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) into the fold, and together with three others, the gang take the audience on a fast paced adventure that, for the most part, has a decent balance of plot and straight up action.
I’m not the most invested or even interested when it comes to things like the minutia of ‘superhero rules’, but something that I really liked about The Old Guard was the tying into history that the plot centres around. There is a healthy dose of science-fiction in the machinations and ambitions of the the central antagonist, but on the whole, the film is much more about the history of these immortal characters, where they come from, what they have seen, and how their impact can be seen over the course of history. It is that aspect of the film that really grabbed and held my attention much more than the action, but that isn’t to say that the action isn’t absolutely kick ass. Just so you know, it is.
The narrative is essentially split into sections of exposition about the origins and ‘rules’ of the characters, and then action sequences that help to display their skills. I’m happy to report that I was thoroughly entertained by both. The Old Guard really isn’t the type of movie that I would necessarily choose to watch all the time, but every now and then I’ll get the taste for something ‘comic booky’ and action packed. In that kind of mood, this film really fits the bill. It’s not perfect, and I’m sure that die hard fans of the genre or comics might have plenty to say about the fight sequences or accuracy to the original property, but for someone like me who just wanted to sit back and be entertained for a couple of hours, I was more then pleasantly surprised. Give or take a few cringeworthy lines of dialogue, The Old Guard is just ultimately very solid.
I referenced it right at the beginning of the intro, but I really could watch Charlize Theron punch people in the face for unlimited hours. As Andy, Theron gives us quintessential stoic female action badass and I loved every second of it. She’s authoritative enough to be a believable leader of this extraordinary group, and also uses her dramatic experience to convey the hidden layers that the character has. Being thousands of years old, there is a lot of weight to carry on those shoulders!
Making up my new fab five are the aforementioned KiKi Layne as newest recruit Nile, Matthias Schoenaerts as Booker, Marwan Kenzari as Joe and Luca Marinelli as Nicky. With origins as a modern US marine, a Napoleonic French soldier and fighters for either side during the time of the Crusades respectively, everybody brings their own fun characterisation to the roles, and the interaction between the group provides some of the most enjoyable and quiet moments in the movie. Racial diversity, gender diversity, LGBTQ+ representation; I have nothing but good words for this central group of characters, along with the actors who portray them.
The only small criticism, and perhaps one that just stems from my wider opinion of comic book movies, is the comically unhinged and evil performance of Harry Melling as villain Steven Merrick. Outside of the fact that it’s funny to watch grown up Dudley Dursley being a grade A weasel prick, there is something a little bit parodical about the character for my liking, but like I said that’s a problem them I tend to run into in most of the superhero related stuff that I see!
Overall though, I’m happy to say that The Old Guard was a really pleasant surprise for me. Solid action, interesting premise and a cast of really great performers, there really isn’t much to complain about from where I’m standing. In classic superhero/comic book genre style, the end of the film very much sets itself up for a sequel, and I for one would not be upset to see another couple of these adventures. As long as Charlize keeps smacking dudes into next week, I’m totally down.