Review: 'The Old Guard' Brings Gratifying Action & a Satisfying Finale
by Zofia Wijaszka
July 10, 2020
What would you do if you were immortal? Would you save people and help the impoverished? Or rather use it only for your own selfish needs? Those and many similar questions arise in the minds of audiences while watching The Old Guard. Directed by filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights) this sci-fi Netflix film touches on the subject of immortality and the abuse of body autonomy, as well as many other aspects. The Old Guard, adapted from a graphic novel series by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez, captivates audiences with its superb cast and fascinating topic that makes it more mature than other films based on comic books. The director steadily builds up the tension, leading to its satisfying finale.
A group of four immortal legionnaires led by Andy (Charlize Theron) travel worldwide and help the weak ones. The rebel group has hiding places all over the world. But when danger hits home, the group must find a new immortal that has just appeared in their dreams - a smart and highly skilled U.S. Marine, named Nile (KiKi Layne). While Andy goes to find and retrieve her, the other Old Guard members - Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) gather more information on their latest adversary, Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and his boss, Merrick (Harry Melling), the slimy CEO of an evil pharmaceutical company. The race for their lives begins when Merrick pursues them, during which Andy teaches Nile the basics of their immortal living, and the others answer her many questions.
First things first, I absolutely loved watching Theron in the battle scenes. As Andy, she possesses immense grace and strength while establishing her authority. The origin of her existence gives the film an interesting twist in which Theron's character becomes a true heroine of multiple generations. Together with KiKi Layne, they possess great chemistry that works well in a "mentor-student" way. Andy tries to teach Nile everything she knows. At the same time, the youngest immortal realizes how much Andy and the group have done for the whole world and is in awe of their work. That trio – Schoenaerts, Kenzari, and Marinelli – delivers a set of gratifying performances which reiterate the positive power of teamwork. The characters of Joe and Nicky additionally perfectly portray the thin line that exists between love and hate.
What works in the film is that it plays on both the literal and metaphorical level. On the one hand, we have a sci-fi story embellished with great action scenes and multidimensional characters. On the other, The Old Guard addresses issues of body autonomy and greedy exploitation of bodies in the modern world. All the immortal characters are chased by a rich man who wants to use their bodies for his gain. Under the guise of helping others become immortal, Merrick wants what some people deeply desire – money and power. The truth is, he treats the bodies of this group merely as objects that he can turn on & off and manipulate. It's established at the beginning of the film, so we must keep in mind that they already can't really control when they die and when they are resurrected. The only control they have is who they will help next.
On this topic, The Old Guard offers a lesson that immortality isn't exactly bliss and can get quite tiresome and lonesome. The film showcases the dread knowing the en dis coming, and the pain of losing everyone you love by outliving them. While giving us action and excellent battles, Prince-Bythewood also highlights that "when it's time, it's time," a compelling thesis even in modern society. Contrary to other films based on graphic novels where immortality is blessed (for example, Deadpool), Theron's character and her army show us a more mature, more grim version of this power. In one of the interviews, Charlize even says that what we can take from the film is that one thing is certain and that is death. If we don't have that, we can easily lose ourselves. It depends on us and what we do with our power - that's what The Old Guard is ultimately about. The serious questions about immortality make the film unique, fresh, and a great watch for this summer.
In addition to the story and message within are scenes that grabbed my attention with their amazing acting and outstanding fight choreography. One of them, reasonably early in the film, is where Nile and Andy fight on a plane going to Paris. The newbie, unconvinced of the other's motives, challenges Andy. Although the older immortal possesses centuries of practice, Nile is also a trained Marine. The dynamic between the two actresses is so much fun to watch in this particular fight, but also every other scene. Another scene I loved was in a church and it, once again, showcases Theron's incredible martial arts talent. She single-handedly fights off a group of mercs that answer to Merrick. Also, the moments when the Old Guard resurrects are each satisfying, interesting scenes. It can be Nile's slashed throat miraculously healing, or the whole group standing back again after being shot at from the proximity - it amazed me throughout the entire film.
The Old Guard instantly lands in my Top Ten for this year so far. It has everything I'd hope for. There is impressive directing, a memorable cast, and truths hidden within the film that make the picture even more appealing. The topic of control over their bodies, as already discussed, can easily be referenced with our real world and modern society and, for example, issues of abortion. Theron and Layne remain at the forefront throughout and charm audiences from the very first minute. And together with Schoenaerts, Kenzari, and Marinelli, they showcase the immense strength of a group's bond and prove that teamwork always pays off.
During the film, the characters prove that immortality may be worth something as long as you use it to do good. As the closing credits begin to roll, we're shown more pictures of Andy, Luca, and others helping and saving people throughout history all over the world. By saving one person, this person later saves millions by inventing vaccines or creating a shelter or inspiring more good. And that's a key message of the film. We don't know what influence we have on someone's life. But if we do good in this world, the next generation may do even more. Gina Prince-Bythewood's The Old Guard is unlike any other movie based on a graphic novel. She gives us a steady stream of action and a storyline that never bores, and a welcome message about the power of goodness. It's much more serious, grim in moments, and more mature. It's a great watch this July and might just be the best film of the summer. Give it a look. Available to watch on Netflix now.
Zofia's Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Follow Zofia on Twitter - @thefilmnerdette