The Old Guard
Netflix’s big Summer action flick arrives this week with The Old Guard, bringing about a unique take on the immortal warrior story, and managing to work even when it shouldn’t. Check out my full review!
Despite not reading the comic series (of the same name) The Old Guard is based off of, this is a film I’ve had my eye on since we got our first look a few months back. For one, having grown up with a goofy obsession for the Highlander flicks (and subsequent TV series) I’m a sucker for the immortal warrior concept, and since this seemed to have a different/unique take on that idea, I was immediately curious. As the trailers showed some impressive action sequences, my interest grew and I had to see how this one played out.
The story puts the focus on this small group of immortal beings, who died at various points in time throughout historical wars. Andy (Charlize Theron) is the oldest, having been around for thousands of years, and leads the group of four as they work together. While they work, essentially, as a family now, they originally had little to do with one another, outside of dying and mysteriously coming back to life.
When one makes a return, the others have dreams about it, ultimately drawing them altogether. While there seems to be no rhyme or reason for it, they put their unique skills together for the purpose of trying to make the world a better place. They’ve fought in nearly all the wars you’ve heard of, and in the modern day work to track down cartels, human traffickers, and other nefarious groups.
Over the many years, Andy has grown weary of it all, seeing no end to the cruelty/wars of humanity. She’s ready to be done with it all. Things change when, for the first time in centuries, another immortal is “born.” Nile (Kiki Layn) is a Marine killed in action, but finds herself an outsider to her entire troop when her wounds heal and she returns to life.
Feeling the inescapable pull, Andy heads out to retrieve Nile and introduce her to her new life. This dynamic, of the old and new, forms the crux of the story as we see the worn-out leader struggle to show the newcomer the ropes. Things get more complicated, however, as the group must uncover the plot behind who’s trying to capture them, and force them into a fate worse than death….
I don’t want to go much more into the story aspect to avoid spoilers. There are some real interesting elements and lore brought up in the film that I enjoyed quite a bit. I thought the film did an excellent job explaining the idea behind this group (incorporating plenty of flashbacks) while still working to move the plot along at a breakneck pace.
The only downside on the story side of things, is that there are a few moments in the film where I wish they’d gone a little bit deeper. Slow it down just a smidge to allow some further exposition that would allow the more emotional moments and themes to hit harder. It plays with some heady ideas on purpose and living the right kind of life, but too often skimmed the surface during scenes where they could have explored it further. While it doesn’t detract from the fun factor, it feels like a missed opportunity to go beyond.
Character Beats and Action Goodness
Where I felt the film really shined, however, was in how it treated the characters in the film. Even though it moves quickly and features a good number of characters, there’s excellent balance there. In rapid order you find yourself caring about these characters you just meet, and they’re each given some poignant personal moments to endear you even further.
Without spoiling it, one of my favorite character moments was the interaction between Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). These two warriors actually killed each other, fighting on opposite sides of the Crusades, but have found solace in eternity with their love for one another. This comes fully into focus during what’s ultimately a tense moment, that’s both touching and humorous.
Overall, this feels like the general tone of the film. While it takes the idea and characters seriously, there’s a lot of humor sprinkled throughout. Whether it's in the form of them playing around with their super fast healing/immortality, or just interacting with each other. The humor feels natural and not only brings moments of levity to the action heavy film, but serves to make the characters themselves feel more real and relatable.
All of the cast bring the goods to their characters, making them feel vividly fleshed out in a short period of time, while making me interested in learning more. A lot of it comes about as they interact with the newcomer, Nile. While she struggles with the implications of unending life and what the means for her friends and family, we learn about how the others have dealt with it (or not) and what they feel their purpose is for their unique gifts.
And that’s not to mention the impressive action sequences on display! If you watched the trailers, you’ve gotten a taste of the intense action the film brings to bear. Because they are immortal (and were soldiers to being with) the crew are the ultimate badasses, honing their skills over centuries. And somehow, despite the idea that they’re supposedly unkillable, there’s still a sense of tension to each encounter you wouldn’t expect.
There are a number of standout sequences, but the early fight scene within the plane (between Andy and Nile) is certainly one to remember. Just about every sequence features at least one “holy shit” moment with fun choreography and the camera/editing work to make sure it shines. If Netflix was looking to capture the feel of the “Summer Action Blockbuster” they’ve absolutely succeeded with The Old Guard.