The Old Guard (2020)
Directed by: Gina Prince-Blythewood
Written by: Greg Rucka
Starring: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Chiwetel Ejiofor
When she and her team are surrounded by heavily armed mercenaries, Andy (Charlize Theron) isn’t panicked. Instead, with a roll of her eyes, she grunts, “Motherf*ck.” After being shot to pieces, she and her crew stand back up little worse for wear, and proceed to slaughter the mercenaries who targeted them.
Thus the tone is set for The Old Guard, a film adapted by Greg Rucka from his namesake comic book series. Like the comic series, this film is a superhero team up story in all but name. For reasons they cannot discern, the Old Guard are immortal, and have been for a very long time. Two members of the team, Joey (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), met and killed one another on opposing sides of the Crusades. Booker (Matthias Schoenarts) is a man whose tragically long life has led him to outlive his three sons. Andy’s age is a mystery. All that is known is that she is very old.
They are spurred into action when they share a collective dream of a Marine named Nile Freeman (Kiki Layne) being killed in action during a combat operation. With this, they realize that they have found another person like them. Unfortunately, there may be other, more sinister forces that may be on the lookout for them as well.
The film draws its primary strength from the relationship between Theron and Lane. While the idea of a cynical mentor paired with a more idealistic younger sidekick is nothing new, The Old Guard finds ways to explore their relationship to satisfying ends. This is primarily thanks to the charismatic performances of both Theron and Lane, who imbue their characters with a respective sense of weariness and optimism. What may feel tired instead feels refreshed here.
Which is how director Gina Prince-Bythewood pushes her film past the typical mediocrity of so many Netflix productions. The story here treads familiar ground, but it’s through her inventive direction that the film is entertaining all the same. Of course, one would be remiss if we did not mention the film’s other great strength: its action sequences. While there is a decent amount of heavy gunplay, the film doesn’t rely on shootouts or explosions as its dominant form of excitement. Theron already displayed her considerable athletic abilities in Atomic Blonde, and we see them again here. Andy moves fast and hits hard, and it’s amazingly satisfying to watch. The only downside was how comparatively little action the Old Guard’s weapons of choice see. While it is understandable that they would not want to use the weapons they brought into battle with them centuries ago, it was still a disappointment to see how infrequently their swords and battle axes were used in combat here.
Despite the well-trod nature of its plot, The Old Guard succeeds largely in the way its story is executed. Whatever creaks the plot may have are balanced out by a terrific cast, smooth action, and smart direction. As far as Netflix films go, it’s a cut above the rest.