Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Starring: Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Joey Ansah, Anamaria Marinca and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Run time: 1h 58min
Charlize Theron’s Andromache the Scythian (or Andy to her friends) isn’t your average warrior. For a start, she’s approximately 6000 years old and seemingly immortal. After spending centuries seeking others of her kind, her small army of similar soldiers right wrongs and fight for whichever cause they believe in at that particular time.
When local militia kidnap a group of children in South Sudan, the CIA recruit the gang to step in and save the day. When they’re betrayed, they ruthlessly hunt down the people that set them up. Joined by newcomer Niles (Kiki Layne), a marine struggling to come to terms with her situation, their search leads them to Steven Merrick (Harry Melling). He’s CEO of Merrick Pharmaceuticals and desperate to get his grubby hands on their DNA to aid his research into preventing dementia. Sounds admirable, but he’s willing to knife anyone in the back to get it. Literally.
The Old Guard is based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Greg Rucka who’s spent many years writing for super-hero giants, DC and Marvel. Here, it’s his screenplay at work and his words bring an accomplished and assured approach to proceedings. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, for the most part, keeps the narrative moving along effectively although the pace drops in the second third when the action takes a back seat. The fight scenes are down and dirty although nothing we haven’t seen before in John Wick, Theron’s Atomic Blonde and more recently Extraction, but they’re easy to follow with exceptional choreography.
Theron drives the film with a world-weary cynicism. The oldest of the group, she’s tired, bitter and has a heart-breaking history. This is perfectly balanced by Niles’s wide eyed innocence and youthful take on proceedings. The curse of immortality has affected all of them in one way or another; whether it’s watching loved ones grow old and pass away or becoming disillusioned that the work they’re doing is meaningless. All the immortals have fascinating backstories and the secondary characters needed to be fleshed out and explored in more depth.
Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli as the other members of Andy’s team are all a little too similar character-wise and Chiwetel Ejiofor doesn’t have much to get his acting chops into. Harry Melling is simply miscast. Way too hammy, his performance jars against the more grounded turns surrounding him and because it’s so over-the-top, he lacks the required menace to be a credible threat.
Although it’s nothing ground-breaking, The Old Guard is a solid fantasy thriller. Flawed, yes, but still highly entertaining and with the exquisite tease of a sequel, Netflix may well have another hit franchise on their hands.
The Old Guard streams on Netflix from Friday July 10th.