Based on the Image Comics series, The Old Guard offers a somewhat predictable narrative that’s nevertheless entirely offset by strong character arcs, a cast with fantastic chemistry and stunts that will make you gasp.
The film follows a group of seemingly immortal warriors led by Andy (Charlize Theron), with Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari, Aladdin) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli, The Great Beauty) loyal to her command as they complete missions for good around the world. Though godlike beings aren’t a new concept, screenwriter Greg Rucka adds an intriguing creative wrinkle by making this crew notably philosophical and battle-weary.
They understand, perhaps greater than anyone, that an endless life requires considerable responsibility and, with it, the burden of bearing their failures. Taking lives carries a heavy price for these characters, so to enact more violence than required is something they’d rather avoid. Their mindfulness — a refreshing twist on the typical remorseless killer trope — gives much of The Old Guard its emotional heft, which the film takes its time exploring without diminishing the exquisite artistry of its action sequences.
Each fight is more than just which member of the team can get hurt the worst before he or she recovers and strikes back. The injuries and healing still hurt, so the warriors design each attack and defensive plan to deliver maximum punishment while incurring minimal damage. In a break from traditional action filmmaking, director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball) gives viewers room to see clearly what’s happening during these fights, imaginatively employing long shots that showcase each character’s skills.
This visual approach lets us see that it’s actually Theron wielding Andy’s axe and Kenzari unquestionably delivering a particularly ferocious and absolutely justified inverted body slam. Even KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) as new recruit Nile is all but certain to drop jaws as she goes toe to toe with Theron in an early tussle.
Along with the top-notch action, what makes The Old Guard truly engaging are its performances. While there are some fun moments from the supporting players, the real joy comes from the central cast members, who exhibit perfect chemistry as an ensemble. The standouts are Kenzari and Marinelli, who create such a beautiful love story in a short time that a brief speech by Kenzari will have you clutching your heart and a fight sequence involving Marinelli may just stop it. Their performances inspire such thorough investment that you’ll find yourself rooting for this charming couple the entire film. As for Layne, give me more of her whooping ass with purpose, please. In fact, find her more work with Theron, another actor whose versatility continues to grow year after year.
The Old Guard is well worth viewers’ time and, with luck, will be the first entry in a grander story. The film ends in such a way that, for this writer, curiosity is certainly piqued — not because we’re left with more questions in need of answers but because this cast playing these characters is so damned satisfying, I want to see more. If the enthusiastic critical response and likely elevated streaming numbers from homebound viewers are any indication, I’m sure they’ll return.
Available to stream via Netflix