THE OLD GUARD Review
Over the past few years, Netflix have established a niche for their ‘Original’ films. There are two categories; the average, disposable films that are an evolution of the old school, direct-to-video market. Think of Extraction with Chris Hemsworth as Australian John Wick or I Am Mother with Hilary Swank in a sci-fi thriller with touches of Alien and Moon. The other Netflix film is their prestige film which tries to give the streaming service some credibility. Think of Roma, The Irishman or recently with Da 5 Bloods. The latest Netflix original definitely falls into the former of the two.
The Old Guard, based on a comic book by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez, stars Charlize Theron as Andromahce, or ‘Andy’, who leads a group of immortal warriors who work to make the world a better place. Things change when a pharmaceutical company starts hunting them down and the team find a new member, the first in over 200 years.
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond The Lights) offers a decent action film with likeable main characters and quick, memorable action beats. For a first-time, action director she has a slick touch with the action scenes which hopefully develops in the inevitable sequel that the movie baits you with. While brief and sparse, the action evokes the John Wick-style that has populated recent fight sequences.
What makes it fresh, is the way it conveys the team’s history together as they work seamlessly to dispatch waves of enemies in bloody and spectacular ways. Instead of fighting individually, like in most superhero team-up movies, the warriors exchange ammunition and knock enemies into waiting gunfire, like you imagine people who have worked for hundreds of years would do. It’s a nice blend of choreography and storytelling that not many action films prioritise. However, the music choice for the action is jarring and seems more apt for a teen-drama TV show than the ‘gritty’ fights.
Charlize Theron is and always will be a movie star, with her natural charisma here elevating the jaded Andy into a likeable and empathetic character. The film establishes the heroes as individuals and enjoyable characters that you would like to see more of. There’s Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), who feels isolated from the rest of the world; and Joe and Nicky (Marwan Kenzari & Luca Marinelli), who are probably the first major gay couple in a big budget, superhero film. The new recruit, Niles (Kiki Layne), is the audience surrogate for exposition and has the snappy dialogue of a Marvel character, with one fight between her and Theron a highlight.
The biggest failing of the film is its villain who is a blank canvas that has no memorable motivations or characteristics besides being played by Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter. Put him in any other Netflix action film and he fits, he’s that bland. If he was more over the top in his performance, then that would have played into the film’s hand of having a generic villain, but making them memorable. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character, Copley, had the makings of a better, more complex, villain but turns into an intriguing character following a 2nd-act twist.
The Old Guard is not bad, but overall is forgettable. Prince-Bythewood’s directing of the action and the immortal team’s interactions keeps you on board, but when the film strays away from the fantastical elements, it becomes generic. The closing scenes set up a sequel which looks to improve of this film’s shortcomings and grow on the rich character foundations.