DIRECTED BY: Gina Prince-Bythewood
STARRING: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Matthias Schoenaerts, Luca Marinelli, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harry Melling, Veronica Ngo, Anamaria Marinca and Joey Ansah
Led by a warrior named Andy, a covert group of tight-knit mercenaries with a mysterious inability to die have fought to protect the mortal world for centuries. But when the team is recruited to take on an emergency mission and their extraordinary abilities are suddenly exposed, it’s up to Andy and Nile, the newest soldier to join their ranks, to help the group eliminate the threat of those who seek to replicate and monetise their power by any means necessary.
The Old Guard is a film adaptation of Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández’s graphic novel of the same name and is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. The film focuses on a group of mercenaries that are reunited in order to take on a new mission from ex-CIA agent Copley. There is something different about them that we will soon come to learn: they are immortal. Having spent the majority of recorded history caught up in every war and brutal moment, the leader Andy has seen her fair share of the good and bad of humanity, and begins to wonder if they have ever made a difference at all as she witnesses the inhumanity and agendas that keeps repeating itself. Meanwhile Andy, Booker, Joe and Nicky are about to be joined with a new immortal in Nile Freeman, a U.S marine that is serving in the Middle East when she gets killed in action, only to come back to life as the first immortal in centuries.
The Old Guard comic series is one I’m not familiar with outside of a few cover images, but as a film adaptation, it’s refreshing to have a comic book film outside of DC and Marvel that’s not focused on a group of heroes trying to stop the end of the world. Here, we follow a group of immortals that are trying to fly under the radar in a the modern age of society that’s advanced with the use of technology. With Greg Rucka adapting his own graphic novel, the film primarily focuses on setting up this world and the characters that we follow, with Gina Prince-Bythewood’s direction patiently sitting in on the quieter moments between them as the reflect on their pasts, contemplating their initial first-time encounters, such as Joe and Nicky constantly killing each other during the Crusades before finally being committed to one another, and reflecting on their guilt, such as Andy remembering another immortal that she was friends with that received a fate worse than death. It’s these moments for individual characters that make the world within The Old Guard interesting to watch and even though the group are immortal, we get to see their vulnerability, especially when we learn that even the immortality part might come with an expiration date. The performances amongst the core ensemble is really good and immediately captures your interest, as the rapport amongst the army of four is believable as you’d expect from a group whose gift/curse creates a bond that no-one else could understand. The relationship and chemistry between Joe and Nicky is portrayed really well by Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli, particularly in one scene in a van. Matthias Schoenarts is really good as Booker, one of the immortals that’s plagued with guilt about his curse, as he reveals in one scene of how he watched his sons grew old and die with one in particular being furious with his father for not saving him with his ‘gift’. Charlize Theron is a commanding presence as Andy, the leader of the group and one whose actual age remains as much a mystery to those around her. KiKi Layne here is really good as new immortal Nile Freeman, whose thrust into this world of immortality and the risks (and benefits) that come with it, acting as the audience vehicle in asking the questions about this world and other characters backstories, whilst remaining an interesting figure herself. The fight sequences are well choreographed, from a fight scene on a plane between Andy and Nile, in which Andy appears to be toying with Nile in order to see her strengths and also then show her how her new-found abilities work, as well as another scene in which Andy takes on an elite squad at a church sent there by the main villain’s right-hand man Copley. These scenes are well filmed by Prince-Bythewood and edited by Terilyn A. Shropshire, with some good cinematography work by Barry Ackroyd and Tami Reiker.
For bringing an interesting world to (the big) screen, The Old Guard relies on a lot of heavy exposition and some might believe there is too much on that front, while the stories themselves are interesting, there is a feeling of maybe a little more show than tell could’ve been better to see. While he gives a very good performance as a compelling and conflicted villain in Copley, Chiwetel Ejiofor does feel slightly underused here for a man of his talents, and as for the main villain, portrayed here by Harry Melling, he does play the part of ‘villain you’d really want to punch’ very well as a CEO of a pharmaceutical company who is looking to capture the immortals and use their blood etc, but he’s more the kind of villain you can’t wait to see get their comeuppance rather than being comeuppance rather than being compelling. to cure all diseases but not because it will be beneficial for the human race, but of course, for profit. The major gripe I had with the film was the use of the soundtrack here. For me the soundtrack just took me out of the moments a good few times and overall I would’ve preferred an actual original score other them moments instead.
While there’s arguably too much exposition given here, there’s a lot of potential moving forward with The Old Guard becoming a potential franchise for Netflix. The performances from the ensemble are compelling, the characters are interesting and the direction from Gina Prince-Bythewood makes the quieter moments just as interesting as the action scenes. With a stinger to end the film, I’m actually looking forward to revisiting this world and see what happens next.