In THE OLD GUARD (2020), you have Charlize Theron playing the leader of a small band of immortal mercenaries who travel the world in search of missions to do good for humankind.
Sounds pretty cool, right?
I thought so. But sadly it sounds better than it actually is. Yes, even though THE OLD GUARD is getting positive word of mouth and decent critical reviews, I was a bit underwhelmed. Maybe my expectations were too high?
Andy (Charlize Theron) has been fighting the good fight for centuries. Yup, she’s an immortal warrior who has been saving the day forever. Literally. Yet, she feels increasingly frustrated because in the here and now the world is worse than ever, and she feels that in spite of all her efforts through the years she has not made a difference.
Presently, she leads a small group of fellow immortals which include Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). When they are hired by an ex-CIA operative named Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to rescue a group of abducted children in Sudan, they are ambushed, and they discover that Copley had set them up, as evidently he has another agenda, and it has to do with a villain named Merrick (Harry Melling) who is very much interested in learning the secret of this group of heroes’ immortality.
Around the same time, a young U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, Nile (Kiki Layne) is killed, only to come back to life, and the group realizes a new member has emerged, so in addition to fighting Copley and Merrick, they have to find and recruit young Nile, who is not in the least interested in joining this group of heroes.
Oh, and by the way, we also learn that these heroes aren’t really immortal. Come again? See, they just have very long life spans. They can still die. Eventually. They just never know when.
How terribly— inconvenient.
I was excited to watch THE OLD GUARD, mostly because of the presence of Charlize Theron, whose work I enjoy a lot, and also because I thought the film had a very cool premise.
Now, Theron is as good as expected. She’s excellent as Andy, although I didn’t find the role all that interesting. For example, early on she laments that she simply hasn’t made a difference, that the world is worse than ever, yet this angst never becomes a driving force in her personality. And while her choreographed fight scenes are very good, they’re not great. Her action scenes in ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) were superior.
But the film’s premise I thought was lacking, and it wasn’t as innovative and exciting as I expected it would be. It’s a rather blah screenplay by Greg Rucka, who also wrote the graphic novel series on which this movie is based. The dialogue is pretty standard and doesn’t rise to the level of an electrifying superhero movie.
The plot also has issues. Their mission isn’t terribly exciting, mostly because it’s not really a mission! When the film opens, and they are sent to rescue abducted children, that mission had promise, but it turns out that was only a set-up. For the rest of the movie, they are only doing two things. One, seeking out Copley and Merrick, and this is only for their own self-preservation, and two, recruiting and training Nile.
It’s a classic example of a film that was made to spawn a series, with the set up for the next film being now that we’ve assembled this group of heroes let’s send them on an exciting adventure in the next movie! Why not just do that in this movie??? What a terrible waste of time. This happens a lot in these types of movies. SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) was another example.
Merrick is also a pretty ineffective villain. He doesn’t have much of an agenda, and he has zero screen presence.
Actually, none of the characters in this one are all that interesting. It’s a rather dull band of immortal heroes.
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood does an okay job. The action sequences are decent but not outstanding. The pacing of the film is also rather slow. The film runs just over two hours and it felt like it.
THE OLD GUARD is a Netflix original, but it is nowhere near as good as a previous Netflix original action movie, EXTRACTION (2020), which had some of the best and most intense action sequences in any movie I’ve seen this year.
The cast didn’t really wow me. Chiwetel Ejiofor, however, does add fine support as Copley, and the character undergoes a transformation in the film which sets him up as a key player in the sequels, and I do believe Netflix is planning to make more of these movies.
And while there are some decent scenes in this one— a sequence on a plane is one of the better ones in the movie, for example— there’s simply not enough of them to lift this flick to the upper echelon of superhero action movies.
It’s also rated R, yet I hardly noticed. I don’t think it earned its rating all that well.
THE OLD GUARD is a film filled with promise. With Charlize Theron leading the way, this group of heroes should be one worth watching and rooting for. Sadly, for most of this film, due largely to a standard and rather unimaginative screenplay, that’s not the case.
Since there is a second film in the works, it looks like we’ll just have to wait for the sequel.
And that’s because THE OLD GUARD is all rather old hat.