The Old Guard (2020) Review

In what could have been a potential franchise starter, Netflix’s The Old Guard involves a small group of immortal warriors led by Andy (Charlize Theron). The rest of her team members include Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and his lover Nicky (Luca Marinelli).

Together, they have spent centuries battling against countless enemies and protect humanity. Then one day, their latest mission turns out to be a set-up orchestrated by a shady CIA officer Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Soon, they find out that he’s actually working for a young CEO of a pharmaceutical corporation, Merrick (Harry Melling). Apparently, Merrick is looking to capture them for a lab test to discover what makes them invincible.

Complicating matters is the unexpected arrival of another immortal in the form of a young US Marine, Nile (KiKi Layne).

Based on the graphic novel series of the same name, co-creator Greg Rucka contributes his own adapted screenplay here. But his supposedly inspiring input turns out to be a different story altogether. Given its Highlander-like premise, Rucka’s screenplay could have include fascinating ways to tell an expansive storyline. The kind that spans both past and present eras. Something that Russell Mulcahy used to do admirably in the first Highlander back in 1986. It’s just too bad The Old Guard chooses to restrict itself in terms of scope and ambition. I assume it has something to do with the budget constraint. Which also explained why the movie only settled several glimpses of flashbacks set in the ancient era. Imagine if the movie is given a bigger budget, it would have been far more interesting than what we have here instead.

Andy (Charlize Theron) and Nile (KiKi Layne) in Netflix's "The Old Guard".

It’s not that the present-day setting is completely dull. It’s more like the way the story is told. At a little over 2 hours long, The Old Guard tends to move at an erratic pace. It doesn’t help either with some of the movie’s exposition-heavy storytelling approach. We never get to learn much about the team beyond their obligatory surface-level character interactions. And for all the diverse cast, none of them made much of a lasting impression. Not even the casting of Chiwetel Ejiofor helps matter too, who is sadly wasted in this movie.

Except for the two actresses, who are at least among the saving graces of this otherwise missed opportunity of a comic-book film. At 44, Charlize Theron continues to defy her age with her impressive physically-demanding role. Just like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Atomic Blonde (2017), she fights both convincingly and gracefully regardless of handling weapons or engaging in elaborate hand-to-hand combats. She also brings a perfectly world-weary gravitas to her role of Andy, who has seen enough throughout her endless lifetime. Her co-star, KiKi Layne (2018’s If Beale Street Could Talk) delivers strong support and a soulful turn as Nile. Both Theron and Layne have great mentor-protégé moments together. Now, if only the rest of the supporting actors are as good as them.

Whereas the story isn’t up to par, I’m quite surprised with Gina Prince-Bythewood’s direction. Besides, her previous directing resume consists of drama territory seen in Love & Basketball (2000), The Secret Life of Bees (2008) and Beyond the Lights (2014). The Old Guard marks a radical change of pace, with Gina Prince-Bythewood actually proved herself adept enough in the action department. The fight scenes are thrillingly choreographed with enough flair and visceral impact. And the best thing is, she made the right choice filming all the action sequences in a clean-cut manner with the help of cinematographers Tami Reiker and Barry Ackroyd.

Like all franchise starters, The Old Guard ends with an open finale that leads to a sequel. Whether or not the movie is successful enough to warrant a follow-up will remain to be seen. But if it really happens, let’s hope they can do better than this one.