How does the idea of a movie featuring Charlize Theron leading a band of age-old immortal mercenaries sound to you? What if it tossed in the likes of Matthias Schoenaerts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and “If Beale Street Could Talk” standout Kiki Layne? I posed that question a few weeks ago after the first trailer dropped for “The Old Guard”, a new action-superhero mashup from Netflix that sounds a lot better than it ends up being.
The film is based on a comic book by Greg Rucka who also wrote the screenplay. It’s set in present day and follows a group of immortals, the only ones of the kind, who throughout history have tried to fight for what’s right. They’re led by Theron’s Andy (aka Andromache of Scythia), the oldest of the group but don’t dare ask her how old (“Scythia” is a pretty good indicator). Booker (Schoenaerts) fought with Napoleon. Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) met during the Crusades.
So basically the four never grow old although they somehow grew to the ages of the cast members who play them. Then apparently they stopped aging. Who knows? I don’t remember the movie explaining it although it could have been crammed in the various info dumps we get throughout the middle of the story. Also they don’t die thanks to their Wolverine-like healing factor. Bullets, bombs, blades – they can live through it all. That is until their supernatural healing just suddenly stops for no real reason whatsoever. Then they can die.
That kind of lack of detail plagues much of “The Old Guard” whether you’re talking about the characters or the story itself. It glazes over backstory with an almost casual disinterest, mentioning things from the past and even tossing in some flashbacks. There’s also an oddly developed love angle that doesn’t feel remotely organic. None of it amounts to much except for setting up a sequel. The ending leaves no doubt about the movie’s franchise aspirations.
The main storyline revolves around an evil pharmaceutical company ran by a weaselly young exec named Steven Merrick (Harry Melling) “The youngest CEO in pharma” he proudly boasts. Predictably his plans are to capture the immortals and replicate their powers for his own nefarious purposes. And he has an entire army of indistinguishable and utterly disposable soldiers to make sure he gets what he wants.
Meanwhile the perpetually sullen Andy has grown frustrated with the lack of impact their group’s work is having. “The world can burn for all I care” she mutters. But before she and the team can throw in the towel, they all have an interconnected dream (don’t ask) letting them know that another immortal has emerged. Enter Kiki Layne, so good in “Beale Street” but a bit out of her element here. She’s fine when it comes to pure physicality. But she has a tougher time selling her character dramatically, often overacting and rarely given a quieter moment to show off her strengths. As for Ejiofor, he’s given little to do other than stand to the side and offer stunned reactions to the things he sees.
“The Old Guard” has some good names attached and the idea of immortal mercenaries, each with a John Wick-like gift of nailing headshots, has promise. But director Gina Prince-Bythewood can’t wrangle it all together and Rucka’s script leaves too many questions while offering characters who need more heft. So you’re left with the action which offers a smattering of ‘wow’ moments with an occasional touch of style. Sadly there aren’t enough of them to rescue the film from its more mediocre genre impression. “The Old Guard” opens this Friday on Netflix.
VERDICT – 2 STARS
As appealing as this cast sounds on paper, this just doesn’t sound very interesting to me. It’s a shame it’s not better.
I know. At first the concept sounded like crazy fun. But the movie doesn’t make the most of it. I do enjoy watching Theron. But when she’s not kicking butt she basically spends this entire movie moping. Wish it were better.
Ugh, that’s a shame. That’s an incredible lineup of talent. The premise seems a bit like Assassin’s Creed meets . . . the X-Men? Lol it sounds intriguing. Too bad it doesn’t deliver.
There is potential and I like the Assassin’s Creed/X-Men blend you mentioned. There are hints of that movie but it doesn’t quite come together like it needs to. I can see some people liking it though.
but if they cant die, why should i care?
tend to have this issue with most superhero flicks.
It’s a good question. But as I mentioned they can’t die until suddenly they no longer have their power and then they can, LOL. No real reason given other than “everything dies”. 🤷🏻♂️
Wait? Harry Potter’s cousin Dudley is the main villain? OK, I liked him in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs but this is ridiculous.
That’s him indeed. I liked him in Buster Scruggs too. This film doesn’t give him much to work with.
Damn. To me, the concept sounded lame from the reveal, but I’m cynical so…regardless, looks like a pass. I no longer feel like I’ve got to watch everything LOL. Life goes on.
It’s not a dreadful watch, but it’s hardly fresh, exciting, or memorable. You be missing too much.
Too bad. I’ll take your word for it and pass on this one.
You could find a lot worse ways to spend two hours. Then again that isn’t the most ringing endorsement. LOL
Oh no!! I really wanted you to like this as I trust your film judgement. At least I can watch it “free” with my Netflix subscription and keep my expectations low. Fine review as usual.
Thanks so much. I’ll say this, if you were looking forward to this movie and already have a Netflix account then give it a look. It toys with a fun idea and has a couple of good action moments. But I was pretty disappointed in it as a whole.
Dammit, was looking forward to seeing this on Saturday night, might have to rethink now. 2 stars not enough. 🙁
There’s always “Greyhound”! 😉
Can’t say I’m surprised, given the amount of trash Netflix has put out on the action front lately. I did have a little bit of hope when I saw the cast though! 😦
Me too. I will say some people have liked it more than me. So if you’re curious and have time to waste….
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Wow, we disagree pretty severely on this. I enjoyed it, and not just in a dumb but fun way, but in a this is a good movie way. I think it didn’t click with you and you picked on things you might let go in another movie. I’m not sure why setting up the rules is a lack of detail. Of course there are assumptions in a movie like this. I thought they did a good job of laying out the rules, and then sticking to them. Well anyway, what you found to not like about it I was ok with, so the opposite of your takes.
I’m not sure if I would let my issues go in another movie or not. Hard to say. I just couldn’t buy it. As for rules, I don’t think you need them in every case, but much of this movie is built on them. Take the whole losing their immortality thing. It’s a pretty major plot point, but about all we get in terms of explanation is “everything dies” or something like that. I guess I needed at least some depth or meatier backstory.
I guess I see it as similar to, say, questioning Thor’s hammer- What’s the deal with the hammer, how can it come back to him? It’s just how they’ve defined things. Or – Why did Logan age and die in the movie Logan? He was fine before. Etc.
Sure, I get what you’re saying. For me the difference is Mjolnir is simply a weapon while ‘immortals suddenly dying’ is a significant story point in The Old Guard. Then again, the silly comic geek in me already knew why Mjolnir comes back to him. 😂
Some movies just don’t click with us for whatever reason. When that happens I think you start to find fault with all sort of things. Some you just go with. I’ve never quite gotten why some work, some don’t. One that comes to mind that didn’t work for me is “The Grey”, I kept thinking – Wolves don’t act that way, come on. Others, you just go with whatever they throw out there. John Wick come to mind, I just went with it. I think partly how critical I am depends on how real world the movie is supposed to be, or if it’s a somewhat mythical world. Wick is semi-mythical, Thor obviously is, The Old Guard falls into that category, so it gets more leeway from me.
That’s completely fair. I do tend to be able to overlook more when there are other things in a movie working for me and drawing my attention. There wasn’t much else in TOG that really grabbed me. Maybe that’s why these other things stood out so much. You’re right though, it is interesting to see how one movie can resonate with one person but not another. That’s what makes film criticism so interesting.