The Old Guard

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Old Guard
dir Gina Prince-Bythewood
scr Greg Rucka
prd David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, Charlize Theron, AJ Dix, Beth Kono, Marc Evans
with Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harry Melling, Joey Ansah, Anamaria Marinca, Van Veronica Ngo, Natacha Karam, Mette Towley
release US/UK 10.Jul.20
20/US Netflix 2h04

ejiofor melling marinca

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kenzari, schoenaerts, theron, marinelli and layne
Based on the graphic novels, this beefy action thriller grounds its fantastical premise in a gritty globe-hopping plot. The narrative is relatively straightforward, so feels over-stretched, but it builds characters and moves with relentless momentum. And since the villain is a cruelly greedy corporation, there are also some timely themes woven into the premise. Plus a first-rate cast that makes this about a lot more than just the action.
Leader of a group of immortal mercenaries, Andy (Theron) worries that they're losing the ability to protect the world. She takes on an urgent job in Sudan for CIA operative Copley (Ejiofor), working with centuries-long cohorts Booker, Joe and Nicky (Schoenaerts, Kenzari and Marinelli). But it turns out to be a trap to expose the truth about them, enabling geneticists (Melling and Marinca) to exploit their powers. Then Andy discovers new immortal Nile (Layne), a Marine who struggles to accept this reality as she joins Andy's crew and works together to stop this threat.
Director Prince-Blythewood gives the action choreography a refreshingly down-and-dirty feel, emphasising this team's intriguing mix of morality and immortality. Rucka's script deepens the characters considerably, adding a whiff of melancholy to the idea of living forever. The writing, direction and acting skilfully explore their offbeat interconnections and underlying thoughts and feelings. So while the maniacal doctor is determined to unlock this supernatural genetic code, his spy colleague isn't so sure about his methods.

These immortals have an unusually strong sense of identity. Kenzari and Marinelli play Joe and Nicky's centuries-long romance with refreshing boldness. Schoenaerts brings a knowing, weary physicality to Booker. And Layne's feisty Nile rises to the challenge thrillingly. Meanwhile, Theron offers wit, muscle and serious drama as the oldest team member, bringing millennia of experience to each conversation and battle. Melling is solid as the heartless, obsessive scientist, while Ejiofor offers some compelling nuance to his conflicted role.

Some of the more melodramatic moments have a rather formulaic feel to them, as characters talk moodily about their pasts before diving into the next fight. But this also adds a strong sense of underlying humanity to each of the characters, a longing for family and relationships that makes the action meaningful. And while the basic plot is relatively predictable, it has some nice layers in it, exploring some underlying themes about motivations and responsibilities. Which bodes well if this spins into a franchise, as is clearly the intention.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 4.Jul.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall