Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Starring: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthais Schoenaerts
Released in: 2020
It’s the height of summer, and instead of the flurry of summer blockbusters, cinema doors remain locked and bolted. Even if they are open, nothing new is showing. No carefree action blockbusters accompanied with an armful of popcorn and a half-sipped coke this year. Instead, Gina Prince- Bythewood’s The Old Guard , released on Netflix last Friday, will have to do.
Charlize Theron has already proven herself to be the go-to badass action heroine, and here she shoots, slashes and punches as immortal Andy. She’s formed a small group with the only other immortals in the world: Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). As a four-person army, they save people from conflict worldwide, while trying to remain anonymous. After they’re double crossed and their mission goes sour, all four of them go on the run. In Afganistan, a young woman, Nile (KiKi Layne) mysteriously survives a fatal knife wound, forcing Andy to try and find this new immortal.
The main plot device is nothing new. From Highlander to Twilight , there’s been a long tradition of immortals questioning their place in the world. These beautiful, eternal people are morose because they can’t live a fulfilling life. It’s the same story we’ve heard before, so why does it take the best part of an hour to establish what’s going on? Undeniably, the mythos is interesting and better executed than certain examples, but The Old Guard felt more like a TV pilot rather than a full-length action film. There’s a wink-wink-nudge-nudge towards a sequel, and it’s painfully clear that this film was just set-up for a better story.
This summer season has been lacking in big explosions, martial-arts fighting and bullet dodging. Before you drop everything to turn this on at the mere mention of “action film”, let me be clear. The Old Guard is far more invested in the immortals’ lives rather than explosions. This focus does give The Old Guard a certain dimension. While the action has the same overall effect as a wet firecracker, there’s a welcome attention to detail to the characters. There’s time for the bond between the characters to build, and it’s nice to see Joe and Nicky’s love for each other, without any studio attempt to obscure their relationship. But combined with the slowness of the first half, The Old Guard does not operate as a summer blockbuster, even though it pretends to be one. The few action set-pieces that are in it are dully lit and boringly choreographed. Although Theron is holding the reigns throughout this movie, she doesn’t have room to show off her action hero credentials.
The Old Guard does little to replicate the summer blockbuster thrill at home. It awkwardly sets up a sequel, which undeniably sounds more intriguing than the initial film. Although welcome in this cinematic desert, The Old Guard is a bit of a washout.