GORE IN THE STORE
THE OLD GUARD ***
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.
Starring Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts.
Action, Fantasy, U.S., 125 minutes, certificate 15.
On Demand – Netflix
Adapted from the Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez comic book, THE OLD GUARD deals in immortals, the violence they inflict, suffer through and the burden of watching life pass by. Rucka’s script and Fernandez’s dynamic illustrations provided an exercise in storytelling that is concise and exciting enough to capture the attention of Netflix who have brought it to our screens in a speedy manner. The second series, Force Multiplied, is still running and available on the shelves of your nearest comic store.
Telling the story of a freelance unit of mercenaries for hire, The Old Guard concentrates mainly on Andy, or Andromache to give her original name that gives more of an idea of her age. When an unscrupulous pharmaceutical company discovers the secret of Andy and her teammates immortality, thanks to the help of an ex-CIA agent Copley, they fight back with the considerable fighting skills they have acquired over the centuries. Also, along for the journey is Nile; a US soldier killed in action in Afghanistan, but much to her surprise is back on her feet and handed a machine gun to make sure her long life is kept in the dark.
Of all the recent developments that have been made in action cinema, one of the most interesting is the ascension of Charlize Theron. In what was once the exclusive domain of muscle-bound and near monosyllabic titans like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, Theron, along with Keanu Reeves, now dominates the landscape of mainstream action cinema. Since her iconic turn as Furiosa in MAD MAX FURY ROAD, where she stole the show from the title character, she then followed up with the flawed ATOMIC BLONDE before turning villain in the over the top CGI-fests of the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise. She brings to the role of Andy her now familiar brand of no-nonsense quiet ass-kicker that for now is still fresh enough for the audience to get excited.
Supported by an impressive cast, the film suffers somewhat from a compelling villain. As Merrick, head of the pharmaceutical company that carries his name, Harry Melling is annoying and spitefully sadistic enough. With his somewhat altruistic reasons for capturing the immortals, he is a bit more multi-dimensional than most villains. Still, he lacks a proper edge that makes him memorable in any way. At the same time, Chiwetel Ejiofor is severely underused as Copley. The fact that our heroes are incapable of dying, until for some nebulous reason they do, gives the film a near-complete lack of tension that runs throughout.
In adapting his work, Rucka gives all his characters backstory and purpose that due to budgetary concerns can only be hinted at here, a factor that the comic does not need to worry. Gone is the epic scale where battle scenes from the Crusades and the Napoleonic Wars splashed across the page, replaced here by throwaway dialogue and a couple of scenes shot in the English countryside that nearly convince us they take place in the distant past.
Capably directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, it nevertheless lacks a distinct personality that cannot stop it from being compared to that other cinematic saga of violent immortals, HIGHLANDER. Although that film has dated, it has nonetheless lived on thanks to its distinct visual style and memorable characters. Arriving at a time when we have been starved of big-screen action spectacle THE OLD GUARD helps to scratch that itch but does little else that will help it make a mark that will last through the ages.