REEL Review – The Old Guard (2020)

Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood | Runtime: 2h 5mins | Action, Fantasy, Adventure

A group of immortal mercenaries, lead by Andy (Charlize Theron), come under threat when their existence becomes known. While being hunted, a new immortal joins the group and attempts to make sense of her new power.

Immortality is funny concept, especially in movies. A concept that has an endless supply of stories and times, yet always comes down to the same themes. Immortality is a cool idea in thought, but in practice it leads to centuries of hardship and loss, and the eventual alienation of your own identity. These themes are once again followed in Netflix’s newest action movie, one that really doesn’t find any originality but is saved by strong performances, and a few action scenes that will satisfy you even in a post John Wick (2014) and The Raid (2011) world.

The film is about a group of immortals, all of whom have been around for centuries trying to fight the good fight, but now take the shape of an elite mercenary squad. Leading the squad is Andy, a no nonsense warrior who’s years of experiencing war and death lead her to be somewhat closed off, seeing her existence as pointless in world full of hate and conflict. This kind of head strong character works wonderfully with Charlize Theron at the helm, commanding yet fragile, her chameleonic style prove to work wonders for the complexity of the film’s leading character. With the mix in tone that movie sometimes has it’s important that performances match said tone, and Theron is as comfortable killing bad guys as she is about reliving a centuries worth of trauma.

The action is explosive and intense, one fight between Andy and Nile (a newcomer to the world of immortality) sees them in close quarters on a cargo plane. Another sees Andy impaling and shooting numerous enemies inside an abandoned church, while not as balls to the wall as the one in Kingsman (2014) it’s still exciting. But for all the nifty sequences the movie offers it’s bogged down by other aspects. Nile’s introduction feels like an excuse for them to dump backstories, as well as the rules involved with the world, and the film really misses a trick with it’s soundtrack, opting for a modern-pop mash up rather than a multi-generational compilation. But the most basic part of the film has to be the enemy, a run of the mill corporate despicable that wants them for research, and in turn profit. Played by Harry Melling, he’s as forgettable as the mindless soldiers around him, proving once again that Hollywood really does struggle with a fleshed out villain.

There is a really powerful scene delivered by Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays Andy’s closest compadre Booker, in which he describes the real issue of being immortal. It’s not about just watching the people around you die, but rather watching them blame you for not sharing your secret. It’s a nice little extension to a played out theme, and it’s the most tender moment this movie shares. Other than this moment, and a few mentions of a previous immortal called Quynh, the film really struggles to break out of the explanation stage of the concept, constantly changing it’s rules for the sake of consequence and leaving the movie’s rules unnecessarily complicated.

As well as being bogged down by a lot of generic aspects, The Old Guard spends a little too much time explaining it’s world and characters, rather than giving them the emotional output they need. But, it’s action is strong and Theron gives yet another action performance worthy of her commanding talents.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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