Whilst serving in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) is seemingly killed, only to later miraculously recover from her fatal wound. However, before she can be detained for testing, she is rescued by Andy / Andromache of Scythia (Charlize Theron). Andy reveals to Nile that she is the latest in a long line of immortal warriors but their presence has not gone unnoticed. With the help of former CIA operative James Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), pharmaceutical giant Steven Merrick (Harry Melling) is intent on gaining the secret to their immortality and he will stop at nothing to get it.
…whilst its setup creaks louder than a head-shaped axe waiting to end up in a bad guy’s head, the cast is undeniably top-notch.
Netflix’s latest star-studded comic book adaptation, The Old Guard is to-be honest a tale of mixed virtues. As a vehicle for Charlize Theron leading a group of well-intentioned warriors, who intervene throughout history to save the world countless times over, it makes total sense. After her eye-catching fight sequences in Atomic Blonde and the gruff earnestness of her Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, she’s pitch-perfect to play an immortal assassin. Just think of her as a jaded modern Aeon Flux and then we can get started on working our way down the smorgasbord of other influences/inspirations that make up The Old Guard’s plotline.
Yes. There’s that many.
Bring on the beautiful people who are inexplicably chosen to be immortal (think Highlander) with a lethal skill set is employed to save the world (think everybody from the X–Men backwards) but are then still too dangerous to be allowed to quietly live happily ever after (think every rogue spy/hitman movie you’ve ever seen) then you’ll quickly arrive at The Old Guard‘s pastures new which still taste oddly familiar.
Don’t get me wrong as comic book adaptations go, The Old Guard is densely and decently written, keen to establish both motive and backstories for its characters – and is pleasingly progressive in its sexual politics – but don’t suggest to me in any way that this is something new. In its tale of Assassins Creed meets Highlander meets a big baddie who wants to gain the secret to everlasting life, trust me, we’ve been here before, albeit maybe not all in the same film.
Because in this latest ballet of swift, martial arts all choreographed to the sound of semi-automatic gunfire, the good guys are good, the bad guys are hissably bad (and yes, by that I do mean the acting) and a sequel is hard-baked into its closing frames – Yep because everything today is about establishing a new franchise or a trilogy. Yes, De La Soul were right. Three really is the magic number.
So… by this point in the review you can probably tell I might be a little bit down on this movie and believe me I’m trying not to be but… to be honest, with its hand-me-down bag of premises, it’s actually quite hard not to be. Because sadly lacking either the magic or romantic wonder of the original Highlander movies (and what the hell, the Queen score as well), The Old Guard just lacks that warm frisson of originality that would really make you care about its characters.
That said, if you’ve never heard of any of the movies I’ve been referencing here, still watch The Old Guard. For whilst its setup creaks louder than a head-shaped axe waiting to end up in a bad guy’s head, the cast is undeniably top-notch. Charlize Theron is on solid ground for the reason’s already mentioned, If Beale Street Could Talk‘s Kiki Layne definitely deserves to kick some ass, The Kursk‘s Matthias Schoenaerts is a fantastically soulful presence together with The Lion King reboot’s Chiwetel Ejiofor, who could read the script backwards and still make it sound vital.
So, if not for the story then do it for the actors. And then when you’ve done that, watch Highlander for free, on Netflix, and all the other movies it wanted to be. It’ll be worth it.