Movie Review: The Old Guard

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Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Quick: Name your favorite Netflix original movie.

The Irishman comes to mind. Then I think about the Sandra Bullock movie Birdbox. The former because it was Oscar-nominated (Marriage Story was, too, but admittedly, I’m steering clear of that one), and the latter because it’s Bullock. Otherwise, in my head, most Netflix original movies are Adam Sandler vehicles, which some are watchable actually or forgettable films.

Maybe that’s a “hot take,” as the kids say, but perhaps it’s the delivery mechanism — going straight to streaming, after all “straight to DVD” used to be a negative, in a way, rather than the big splash of a theatrical release — and I tend to dismiss and downgrade them. That’s not fair, but I’m admitting my theater bias, at least.

That said, I saw The Old Guard was released on Netflix, and had Charlize Theron in the lead. You have me. Say no more. Theron is a bad ass, and has proved she can handle those action roles better than most (The Fate of the Furious, Max Max). In fact, this role had some Mad Max, Imperator Furiosa vibes.

The premise of this film is that Theron’s character Andy (short for Andromache of Scythia) is the leader of a roving band of immortal humans, along with Booker, Joe and Nicky, who help thwart wrongdoings in the world. However, they get set up by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character, James Copley, because Big Pharma wants to extract their genetic code and ostensibly save humankind, but in reality, for the Big Pharma exec, they want profits, with a side of sadism.

Enter Nile played by Kiki Layne, the newest person to not be able to die, to help save them.

The film, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, is a blend of John Wick R-rated action, Chronicle-style superhero heroics, and any great Greek mythology story, and is based on a comic by the same name.

What I appreciate about Prince-Bythewood’s hand at the director’s chair is that it’s a steady hand: the action is crisp and fun, similar in vein to Wick, as I said, where you can see what’s going on. One of my central complaints about action and superhero scenes in the last 15 years is that there’s often too many editing cuts that make it hard to follow the action. Which can take away from the bad-assery. But Theron’s (and the rest of the gang’s) bad-assery is front and center.

The mythology is also fun to explore, and is ripe for far more digging. We get a taste of it with how Andy has been around for seemingly thousands of years, was burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials, and the others fought during the Crusades and so forth. There’s a lot to do with that.

You also get the horror of being immortal, and how painful it is. It’s not merely some wonderful gift. People you love and know die, and you keep on living. But also, the fate that could await an immortal is rather horrifying. In one example, Quynh (played by Van Veronica Ngo), Andy’s first friend who was also immortal, was sent to an ocean grave where she couldn’t escape. Imagine being buried in the deepest section of the ocean, unable to escape, and dying every few minutes and returning to scream to no avail until you die again. Over and over again …. for centuries.

Good god.

There are two criticisms I saw of the film on Reddit I want to address, and one of them I can particularly see given my earlier criticism of Netflix: that the film comes across like a made-for-TV movie. Well, it is made for TV, but I don’t think it comes across like a traditional made-for-TV film, like something you’d see on Lifetime.

Like I said, there are too many cool action sequences and scenes, and enough world-hopping scenery that make it rise above that.

The second criticism was that the soundtrack wasn’t complimentary of the movie, and in fact, was bad. Hard disagree. I loved it. I particularly enjoyed the ending sequence when Nile came in like a bad-ass to rescue Andy (and the others) with Phlotilla, Andrea Wasse, and Topher Mohr’s “Going Down Fighting,” playing. That was a memorable sequence.

A lighter criticism is that this movie is an obvious attempt at being a franchise-starter and setting the table for sequels. Sure, it has the mythology and characterization, and more obvious elements that set-up a sequel, like Quynh’s return at the end, but I don’t see that as a bad thing.

Of course I want more of this! It was fun. Fun is good. Give me more. And I sure hope Theron is on board for more sequels in the lead role. “Have faith,” she told Nicky, when it seemed like her immortality was running out.

I hope her immortality at least outlasts a few sequels. Given Quynh’s return, it’ll at least stick around long enough for a sequel presumably.

If you’re looking for a fun twod-hour action romp via Netflix, you can’t go wrong with this one. If I had to give it a star-rating based on five stars, I would give it four stars out of five. I compared it to Wick; well, I’d say it’s the best action film (if you put it into that category) since 2014’s John Wick also kicked off that highly successful and fun action franchise.


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