The Old Guard
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Starring: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Veronica Ngo
Charlize Theron will kick your arse.
Another Netflix movie. Another Netflix action movie. Another Netflix action movie set in the Middle East. The Old Guard, directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood, delivers everything you’d expect from recent similar offerings except for the fact that the focal group of mercenaries are...different from the rest. In fact, they’re immortal (which is pretty handy if you’re a killing machine) and have been alive for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years. However, their secret has been discovered thanks to the discovery of a new immortal and now they have to fight in order to protect themselves and their freedom.
Based on Greg Rucka’s graphic novel, The Old Guard manages to feel both cliché and slightly different at once. It’s light on narrative and the script is so-so, but the introduction of the immortal character angle and the inclusion of lore plus backstory helps to prevent the movie from slipping too far into the conventional rabbit hole. Charlize Theron’s “Andy” is literally over a thousand years old and other members of the gang range from decades old to centuries allowing each to have their own chequered and interesting histories. Each member is given time for development and, whilst Theron is clearly the focus, no one is left behind. As Andy, Theron delivers another high-class performance and again shows why she rules the genre. Following on from If Beale Street Could Talk, KiKi Layne, too, is very strong as Nile – former US Marine and the latest addition to the immortals – with Joe (Kenzari) and Nicky (Marinelli) working well together as ex-Crusaders and also lovers. Harry Melling shows up as a greedy CEO which is always a fun sight to behold and whilst there are no real issues with the performances, though (for reasons), Veronica Ngo is criminally underused.
The action on offer is fast and frenetic, managing to stay on the correct side of the editing process and delivering the usual “oooh” inducing moments of close range gunshots, stabbings and neck-breaks. Whilst these are undoubtedly well done, thankfully, the movie isn’t overrun by these moments, Prince-Blythewood wisely opting to focus on the characters and their struggles as much as the violence and crowd-pleasing moments. An unwise manoeuvre, however, was the use and utilisation of music throughout. Not the score from Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran but the use of contemporary music during major scenes. Every choice seemed to undercut the emotion of the particular scene and, at times, felt like a bit of an indulgent smirk at the audience. Not good.
Compared to recent Netflix offering Extraction, The Old Guard is a step up. It’s still firmly mired in genre conventions but the performances and choice to focus on characters rather than simply action paid off. The Old Guard never threatens to be excellent, but it is a very decent action offering with some good story decisions and Charlize proving who’s boss once more.
July 12th 2020