Movie Review: The Old Guard
The Old Guard is about a group of immortal warriors who take on black ops jobs that do good in the world. They've been doing it so long that they're very good at it, but not good enough not to get caught in an age of constant surveillance. A pharmaceutical company obtains the footage of their resurrection and hunts them down to unlock the secret of their power. All while the first new recruit in over two hundred years awakens after her "death." The film stars Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Van Veronica Ngo, Harry Melling, Joey Ansah, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. It is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Greg Rucka. The film is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
It's crazy how much you miss going to a theater when you watch a gorgeous blockbuster action film on your 13" laptop. Yet, as much as I missed the smell of stale popcorn and body odor, The Old Guard is a movie that translates well to any screen. While violent and bloody, it's still thoughtful and questioning in the best ways. Gina Prince-Bythewood is that kind of filmmaker, though. No matter what she films, in the midst of it all, she knows character is key. It also helps that Greg Rucka not only wrote the screenplay, but the source material as well, so he knew these characters best and was able to translate their journey to the screen with an excellent depth.
Speaking of depth, two of the group are a gay couple. This isn't a lip service gay couple like they have sometimes in these kinds of action films, but these two men are more than deeply in love with each other. I got choked up as Joe described to their homophobic captors that Nicky wasn't merely his "boyfriend" in a grand and eloquent speech. My heart fluttered quite a bit when they kissed and every time they gave affection to one another. It even extended to their fighting styles, one complimenting the other's skill. It's a truly beautiful thing to watch on screen.
Though, what's always ugly to watch on screen, is corporate greed. Not only is corporate greed a part of this film, but the apex of disgusting corporate greed, a pharmaceutical company that stands to make money off a life altering treatment. This one hit a little too close to home as we have been hearing reports of vaccines being developed for COVID-19 and the next phrase in the sentence is about the cost of the drug. It's truly despicable that anything that can save lives could cost money. I do love Harry Melling's scenery chewing pharma bro CEO, though. He's got those mannerisms and motions down pat.
The only thing I don't like about the film is its absolute predictability. If The Old Guard didn't have such strong, compelling characters, I wouldn't have even bothered with it. If you watch enough films like this, you start to hear and see the familiar patterns. As soon as they interacted with the other characters I knew who would be double crossing the team and I knew who would be the hero in the end. Like I wrote, the characters are compelling enough to overlook this ho hum plot device.
Don't ever overlook the brilliance of Charlize Theron, though. She can do no wrong. If her character in The Old Guard asked me to, I would walk into any situation. Theron has that commanding presence and those incredible action movie chops. She brings a strength to this role, but doesn't shy away from the vulnerability just because her character is tough. Theron is the whole package.
I think The Old Guard is a fabulous action movie with elements that help it subvert and improve on the tropes of the films that came before it. It's one you should watch and on the biggest screen in your house so you can see the excellent and intricate fight scenes choreographed by Daniel Hernandez and shot by cinematographers Barry Ackroyd and Tami Reiker. The Old Guard proves Gina Prince-Bythewood's bonafides as a journey(wo)man director who can put her own spin on the action genre. Seek this one out.