A group of immortals fight to save humanity from itself in this pensive action flick
What would you do if you had all the time in the world?
Andy (Charlize Theron: Bombshell) chooses to fight. A warrior in Ancient Greece, one day she discovered that she couldn’t die. Alone at first, Andy wanders from battle to battle, sustaining horrible wounds but getting back up.
It isn’t until she meets another immortal that she finds her purpose—to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. She spends centuries assembling a team of immortal beings, all dedicated to fighting the good fight throughout history. The team, comprised of former crusaders Joe (Marwan Kenzari: Aladdin) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli: Martin Eden) as well as Napoleonic soldier Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts: The Laundromat), marches from one global conflict to another, doing their best to minimize the grim toll war takes.
But Andy is growing weary of her quest. After over a millennia of fighting, she’s yet to see any improvement in humanity. People are still greedy, violent, and cruel. Andy isn’t sure why she bothers trying to save anyone anymore.
While Andy is wavering in her mission, a new immortal comes into the world. Nile (Kiki Layne: Captive State) is a U.S. Marine killed in combat, or so her platoon thinks. When her neck miraculously knits back together and her pulse resumes, her fellow soldiers are terrified. She’s about to be transferred to a medical lab for a lifetime of testing when Andy recruits her to the team.
Violent, snappy, and surprisingly pensive, The Old Guard is a superhero story with more pathos than pyrotechnics. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights) makes her action debut by wisely drawing on her drama background. The characters in The Old Guard aren’t glossy superheroes, they’re world-weary—literally. They’ve lost their families, lovers, and friends as they fight an unending battle to make the world a better place. It’s this sense of fatigue that gives the characters a humanity that is often lacking in films based on comics.
Prince-Bythewood also offers an assured first stab at action sequences. Forgoing the usual CGI-type battles, she instead opts for a John Wick-style of action, using protracted person-to-person combat scenes. Theron spins and twists her way across the screen as she lays waste to foes.
Theron is in her element, showing off in big fight scenes and offering genuinely funny tender moments as Andy indoctrinates Nile into the crew. Theron has a knack for hand-to-hand combat stunts, and it’s a treat to watch her swing a battle-ax through countless baddies. She’s got both the style and the attitude for an action hero, and it’s always nice to see a woman leading a team of soldiers instead of posing in skin-tight leather while the boys have all the fun.
The other surprise of the film is the hilarious and sweet relationship between Joe and Nicky. The two killed each other during the Crusades, only to come back to life and begin dating. Their relationship has spanned the centuries and both Kenzari and Marinelli imbue it with a sense of lived-in affection that makes the duo’s romance feel real. These are men who’ve seen it all, but still find something to marvel at; in many ways, their love is what keeps them from becoming as jaded as Andy and Booker.
Though the film is refreshing in an era of candy-colored over-produced comic book films, it isn’t without its flaws. The villain is a cookie cutter baddie who doesn’t manage to either menace or interest. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character seems to only exist to set up a sequel, which is a shame considering the caliber of actor being wasted.
Still, a quality story, solid lead performances and some nifty hand-to-hand fights make up for a few scripting errors. If you’re looking for a film that delves deep with character development and offers some action fun to lighten the mood, check out The Old Guard on Netflix. It may not make you immortal, but it’s a pretty fun way to spend a few hours.
Good Action * R * 125 mins.