Main cast: Charlize Theron (Andromache of Scythia), KiKi Layne (Nile Freeman), Matthias Schoenaerts (Sebastian Le Livre), Marwan Kenzari (Yusuf Al-Kaysani), Luca Marinelli as (Niccolò di Genova), Chiwetel Ejiofor (James Copley), and Harry Melling (Steven Merrick)
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Mention comic book adaptations these days, and chances are, it’s either the MCU or DCEU trying desperately to be the MCU, and to be honest, the formula is getting stale. Hence, it is so nice to welcome The Old Guard to the fold. It doesn’t break new grounds, but it is a grittier kind of movie, with the main characters kicking ass so much despite having very little acrobatic superpowers or laser beams.
Sure, the main characters are immortals, which means that they can heal from any injury no matter how severe, so as they demonstrate quite a bit here, these people can charge blindly and get shot or whatever, but hey, they can’t die so they are automatically winners no matter what. How do you make characters with such plot armors interesting? Well, by injecting interesting moral and emotional conundrums about what living really means, and whether the price for a world without disease or suffering is worth paying for. Plus, this is a movie with a gay couple that kick ass – it’s really not often I come across such characters. Usually they are inserted to tick items off a checklist to please the Twitter nags, but here, the otherwise token gays actually do something other than being gay. Thank god for genuine diversity done right for once!
Andromache of Sycthia has been around for so long, that the deaths she has caused and the losses she has endured over the centuries – seriously, she probably lost count of how long she’s been around – that she has become a cold and jaded person believing that there’s really nothing about humanity that is worth a glance. Now, in this setting, kind of like Anne Rice’s vampires, these immortals long for the company of one another, and they can all tell when a new immortal makes their appearance in the world. Andy, being the oldest, is the leader of the immortals she’d brought together: Sebastian Le Livre or Booker, a soldier that took a normally fatal wound in Napoleonic wars only to discover that he can’t die, and the gay couple Yusuf and Niccolò, both men that met while fighting for opposing sides in the Crusades – these days, they prefer to explore their own Holy Land.
Trouble begins when they reunite after Booker accepts a gig from ex-CIA agent James Copley to free some kids that are being held hostage by terrorists in Sudan. Andy has some reservations about accepting a job from the same person twice – they need to keep their identities and their immortality on the down low, after all – and it turns out she should have trusted her instincts – the whole thing is a setup. Copley is working with the one-dimensional evil Big Pharma CEO Steven Merrick to capture the immortals, in order to study them and discover how to propagate this immortality to the rest of mankind.
Meanwhile, US Marine Nile Freeman sustains a typically fatal slash in the neck while on duty in Afghanistan, and lo and behold, she survives with her scar healing to the point that there is no sign of it at all. The other Marines are all understandably spooked, and Nile is about to be forcibly transferred to a lab for testing when Andy shows up to basically kidnap her to meet the rest of the immortals. All this while, Merrick and Copley are sending men to grab them all.
Yes, in many ways, The Old Guard is an origin movie at its most fundamental level. We have the newbie, Nile, who will be the viewer’s placeholder to learn the rest of the more established immortals’ back stories and the nature of the immortality itself. There will be scenes of Nile having doubts, only to get herself together to show her chops and become formally the newest member of the gang. There will also be the obligatory heart to heart moments between Andy and Nile and other people.
Nicky and Yusuf do fall into the same pit that many gay characters fall into these days in movies – they don’t have much going for them aside from telling everyone how much they love one another, but my god, these two also know how to kill people with style, and really, that’s what characters in this movie are supposed to do, so yay to them. Nile also doesn’t have much going for her – she’s basically the viewer’s placeholder – so Charlize Theron and Matthias Schoenaerts are the ones who have to do the heavy duty here, and they do it very well indeed. I am really digging Ms Therone’s reinvention of herself into an action hero, and here, Andy displays a balanced amount of both hard ass-ery and vulnerability to be a compelling, interesting character. Now, Andy isn’t a particularly original character by any means, but Ms Theron manages to inject enough nuances into that character to make her a very effective pivot as well as anchor character. Booker has good chemistry with Andy, and he is arguably even more complex a character than Andy, and these two characters play one another beautifully. Both are very damaged people, only they both take very different approaches to deal with the damage.
The only cartoon character here is Merrick, but honestly, I have my suspicion that quite a number of CEOs in real life are really like that, so who knows, maybe this may be just turn out to be an example of accuracy in movies.
The pacing can be off at times, and many scenes in the first half of the movie feel like padding to extend the runtime for some reason. However, once things really get going, so do the pathos, the feels, and the drama. The actions scenes are okay, but come on, these people are going to win anyway, so I am not at all invested in the action elements of the movie. The very human elements of the movie are what gets to me most – the characters, their damage, and the way they deal out violence to mitigate the damage. The script even acknowledges the potential hypocrisy of Andy condemning humanity for their violence even as she kills everyone in her way, while sidestepping this by making these characters all messed up to the point that it’s clear, to me at least, that these characters aren’t to be seen as saints or role models. They are just people who have been driven over the edge – the consequence of living so long that things such as love and hate no longer have much meaning any more.
At any rate, while this movie isn’t perfect or groundbreaking, it works very well in every way that matters to me. I’ve had much fun watching The Old Guard, and I would really be interested in any sequel that may come out from it.