The Old Guard
directed by Gina Prince-BythewoodOther than Charlize Theron and Chiwetel Ejiofor, the diverse cast of The Old Guard is pretty much the opposite of an old guard, with plenty of new faces and lesser-known actors. The story is about a group of immortals who do their best to stay hidden, whilst trying to use their immortality to save people in war and disaster zones. Andy (Charlize Theron) is the oldest of them, and the centuries have taken their toll on her emotionally as she wonders what their small group can really change. The world seems to be getting more violent and generally worse, and she is despairing that they can improve anything.
Then the group get a tip off about a hostage situation, and they go into action to try to save innocent lives. Elsewhere Nile (KiKi Layne), an American soldier in Afghanistan, finds herself the newest member of a team she didn't want to join, after she heals miraculously from an injury that should have been fatal. She is deeply confused about what is happening to her.
However, the team are being watched. The boss of a powerful pharmaceutical company, Merrick (Harry Melling), is interested in them, and it's much harder for them to hide their abilities and longevity in the 21st century.
The Old Guard is as action-packed as you would expect a film about immortals to be. The fighting is acrobatic and fancy. Andy favours swinging an axe when a more prosaic gun would work as well, but she makes it look great. The head count is absurd. Mostly these are faceless black-clad minions who don't question whether they are getting paid enough for their roles. Yet it does somewhat make Andy's complaints about things being too violent seem disingenuous, when the Old Guard are the cause of so much destruction.
One thing that elevates this film above other movies is the way immortality is depicted as a shock and a curse. Time is devoted to exploring the potential downsides of something that most people would initially leap at. The story brings up questions over whether anyone would really choose to be immortal, and about what people would do when confronted with the choice between freedom and comfort and saving millions.
Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is working with Merrick to try to track down the immortals, but whilst Merrick's persona is one of the self-centred evil corporate boss who mainly cares about himself, Copley seems to have a much more nuanced appreciation of his targets and the implications of what he is doing.
Andy's team have an interesting bond. They're tight knit, because it's just the four of them down the centuries, and they alone can keep each others' secrets and have each others' backs. There is also some LGBT representation, although the love story aspect isn't put in the foreground because this movie is all about the axe swinging, shooting, and other stunts. A mixture of dry humour and understated respect for each other, and love, make the team both likeable and intriguing to watch.
We get a few tantalising flashbacks of the historical back story. More of this would have been good, because of course epic battles on chariots or on horseback can look sumptuous whilst being more dramatic and personal than modern day gunfights. But the story has good pacing and decent twists, whilst there is also generally a lot going on. The film, based on graphic novels by Greg Rucka, sets things up for a potential franchise. I'd love to watch more in this series.
17th July 2020
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: Netflix streaming