Current Issue #488

Film Review:
The Old Guard

Scripter Greg Rucka’s graphic novels are brought to the screen by him and director Gina Prince-Bythewood, and the result’s an ambitious but dreary action epic where even Charlize Theron looks bored.

Trying to provide an ambitious combination of violent thrills, philosophical musings, lots of chat about feelings and dollops of sociopolitical commentary, it doesn’t really work on any of those levels, and ultimately feels smug and self-congratulatory.

Andy (star/producer Charlize) is introduced dead and bloody on a floor with three of her friends, but it’s okay because they’re revealed as (just about) immortal and therefore soon to regenerate. Andy (a.k.a. Andromache of Scythia and some 6000 years old), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), Nicky (Luca Marinelli) and Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts) are warriors who have been around for centuries, with Joe (a.k.a. Yusuf Al-Kaysani) and Nicky (a.k.a. Nicoló di Genova) formerly enemies in The Crusades but now very close, and comparatively new recruit Booker (a.k.a. Sebastian Le Livre) a onetime soldier under Napoleon.

These revelations are amusing yet pretentious, and the pretension gets heavier when we discover that they’ve been prolific fighters for justice for centuries, and that as the world grows crazier and scarier, they’re all feeling pretty knackered. The especially virtuous Andy, in fact, is so worn-down that she can barely manage anything more than a grim frown, making her a little tedious, particularly alongside Charlize’s more intense action heroes in Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde.

Onetime CIA operative James Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) drags the gang out of the shadows and villainous bigtime pharma exec (but aren’t they all?) Steven Merrick (Harry Melling, another grown up Harry Potter child actor) swoops, intending to exploit the genetic roots of the four’s immortality, whether it kills them or not. Fortunately, however, he (somehow) doesn’t know about the existence of a recent addition to the collective, a US Marine pointedly named Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne), who somehow survived having her throat cut while serving in Afghanistan and then barely escaped being horribly tested by the evil American Government.

Over-plotted and sprawling, this is uneasily handled by Prince-Bythewood (who’s happier with naturalistic and emotional character dramas like Love & Basketball and The Secret Life Of Bees), and seems almost embarrassed by its need to be, you know, an action movie. The depiction of the immortals as laid-low by global suffering and existential angst is also a mistake when you remember that certain vampires (like The Lost Boys) have used their inability to die as an opportunity to party on, the sort-of-gods in the Highlander pics at least have a bit of fun sometimes, and the possibly-millennia-old Doctor Who can manage a sense of humour and enthusiasm, despite his occasional weariness.

Not these guys, though. Instead they sit around endlessly agonising about the enormous burden of being indestructible, and go on (and on and on) about their spiritual exhaustion, even as they belt and shoot the crap out of the usual faceless army of gun-toting extras.


Reviewer Rating

The Old Guard (MA) is now streaming on Netflix

DM Bradley

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