At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking The Old Guard to be a rehash of the old superpowered team of misfits trope. Fox’s X-Men films, Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy and DC Universe’s Titans and Doom Patrol TV series have properly tapped that well dry. In nearly every rendition of the format, themes of racial, sexual discrimination are sewn into the narrative. With the occasional subject of mental health coming into play. So with that in mind, does The Old Guard bring anything new to the table? Surprisingly, yes. The Old Guard takes its time tested team dynamics and supernatural action premise to some pretty interesting places.
The film follows the story of a group of four immortal warriors. Each of them hailing from different periods in time, spanning centuries apart. They’ve participated in multiple wars, lived many lives and have always remained in the shadow. From medieval knights to ancient barbarians to Napoleonic soldiers, all united by destiny and an enigmatic leader named Andy. Together, they travel all around the world, trying to right the wrongs they see. After centuries of fighting though, Andy has nearly given up on the good fight, seeing humanity as a lost cause. That is until she meets Niles, a US Marine who is the latest immortal to be discovered. Once again, the team is called to battle but this time against a paramilitary pharmaceutical corporation called Merrick. A group looking to exploit their unique abilities. They’re found out and now, they’re in for the fight of their lives.
What sets The Old Guard apart from being X-Men Origins: Wolverine in fives is really the execution of the characterization of each member of the team. There’s an inherent novelty to having a team of ageless mercenaries who have fought in multiple periods and The Old Guard gives you exactly what you want. You want to see large scale battles set in different countries and eras that flesh out the characters’ history? You will most certainly get it here. Those scenes are an absolute treat to watch and as the film progresses, we slowly but surely learn more and more about what drives our merry band of altruistic hitmen.
We’ve always known that inhuman healing factors exist within the realm of comic book films. This is the first time, we see a comic book film address the psychology and philosophy behind powers like immortality and invulnerability. The main meat of the story is centred around Andy learning hope again through the journey of young plucky spitfire Niles. There’s also a really sweet homosexual relationship between two members of the team that I found quite endearing. Seriously, Marwan Kenzari’s Joe and Luca Marinelli’s Nicky are so wholesome together! As you can see, a good amount of the film is dedicated to the team’s lives which is probably for the best. Seeing that the villains of the film are completely forgettable.
Harry Melling plays as Merrick, The Old Guard‘s version of the X-Men films’ William Stryker. He barks orders, gives menacing monologues and has some vague intention to save humanity. It’s all quite passe, evil corporations went out of style back in the late 2010s. At the very least, Merrick offers the team a reason to relive their collective trauma. A predictable catalyst that provides strong motivation for our characters and growth. Less predictable, however, is Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Copley. A CIA Agent aiding Merrick in his hunt for immortals for morally complicated reasons.
Strange enough as it seems, a large part of why I enjoyed The Old Guard was the moving performances within the film. Charlize Theron has truly proven herself to be not only a capable action star but a thespian tour de force as well. Her dour cynicism and hopeless worldview are anchored by powerful pathos revealed in flashbacks. One, in particular, involving the death of a beloved immortal was utterly gut-wrenching to watch. Kenzari and Marinelli bring some much-needed heart and levity to the whole affair with their complicated history as former combatants turned lovers. Matthias Schoenaerts is your textbook smartass whose fighting to keep his hope alive. Niles is the audience’s relatable conduit who receives massive information dump. Hopefully, we get to see more agency from her in future films.
All that sappy shit aside, it’s time to ask the all-important question. Does The Old Guard deliver the goods in terms of action? You better believe it. Remember that scene near the end of V for Vendetta when Mr Creedy’s goons unload a barrage of bullets into V, only to be cut down swiftly after? Yeah, it is essentially that scene, but on steroids. Seriously, it never gets old seeing the team cut down a group of assailants using a mixture of gun-fu and old-timey weapons. The team’s tragic backstory fuels the carnage and makes it all the sweeter when they get payback.
Charlize Theron once again shows off her action star chops with her character’s double-sided axe. She can certainly add this film to her growing repertoire, right next to Atomic Blonde and Mad Max: Fury Road. A minor gripe I have with the film is with its soundtrack and score. There were moments in the film in which The Old Guard uses mediocre pop and rap songs to add some edge to the action. It deflated some of the gravity in scenes but it’s nothing too egregious.
If you’re looking for alternate comic book films outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC, then The Old Guard is just the palate cleanser you need. Set apart by a unique supernatural premise, emotionally resonant performances and powerhouse action scenes, The Old Guard has plenty of new tricks to spare. It’s a fresh angle on superhero healing factors that address the terror and trauma that comes from dying over and over again. Word is still out on whether director Gina Prince-Bythewood and writer Greg Rucka are game for future films. If so, then they can most certainly come me in for more gruesome gore and historical action. You can now catch The Old Guard on Netflix today!
The Old Guard (2020)
Set apart by a unique supernatural premise, emotionally resonant performances and powerhouse action scenes, The Old Guard has plenty of new tricks to spare.