It’s pretty difficult to come up with an original idea in this day and age. Most movies tend to repeat the same beats of those that have preceded them, changing up the details so the copying doesn’t seem too blatant. The new action movie The Old Guard has many familiar elements, but its unique story is where it stands out.
Charlize Theron stars as Andy, the leader of a group of mercenaries who have one defining quality: They are all immortal. Their immortality is unexplained, but the group – which also includes Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwen Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) – has used it to fight various battles over the course of many centuries.
Andy, the eldest, is starting to experience a dissatisfaction with their ability to actually solve any of the world’s ills. She’s both disheartened and reinvigorated when a new person, Nile (Kiki Layne) joins the group after being killed in action in Afghanistan. At the same time, they are being hunted down by Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who works for Merrick (Harry Melling), the head of a secretive pharmaceutical group who wants to study and dissect them so their traits can be used to treat others.
Immortality is certainly not a new idea, nor is being an immortal mercenary, as Deadpool would gladly tell you. But there’s something about this multi-ethnic, female-led group that makes it supremely fascinating and entertaining. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Greg Rucka (who also wrote the graphic novel on which it is based), the film is more progressive than your typical comic book movie, even prominently including a same-sex relationship.
It is also ruthlessly bloody, whether it's the violent ways each member of the group is either killed or maimed multiple times, or in the brutality they unleash on others. There’s something balletic about the fight scenes, coordinated by Daniel Hernandez. The female fight scenes in Marvel movies have developed an expectation for such sequences, but Hernandez, the actors, and the stunt performers come up with a variety of different touches that make these impress every time.
If the story gets a bit wonky toward the end, Rucka and Prince-Bythewood can be forgiven as they’ve already delivered a great introduction to characters that most people don’t know. It looks like they’re aiming for franchise status – Rucka has written 10 issues, so there’s no lack of source material – and the end of the film sets up a possible sequel extremely well.
From Mad Max: Fury Road to Atomic Blonde to The Fast & the Furious series, Theron has established herself as a legit action star, and she doesn’t disappoint here. Combined with her top-notch acting skills, she is magnetic throughout. Layne, who was captivating in If Beale Street Could Talk, holds her own, carving out her own space in a film dominated by Theron. Schoenaerts, Kenzari, and Marinelli each get their own moments to shine, and Ejiofor makes the most of his limited time on screen.
The Old Guard brings something new to the table for the comic book action genre, popping off the screen despite being limited by its debut on Netflix. It’s equal to or better than many recent big screen action movies, with a lot more to say than most of them as well.
The Old Guard is now streaming on Netflix.