THE OLD GUARD (2020)
Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling,Van Veronica Ngo, with Matthias Schoenaerts,and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
It’s just not summer without a good superhero movie and the Charlize Theron-produced “The Old Guard” is just the ticket. Theron plays the leader of a group of centuries-old warriors who travel the world covertly as mercenaries for hire. Based on the 2017 graphic novel by Greg Rucka and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love and Basketball), the film features Matthias Schoenaerts and KiKi Layne (“If Beale Street Could Talk”) as members of Theron’s gang and Chiwetel Ejiofor as a former CIA agent who contacts the OG for a special mission.
We all know that Charlize Theron is a badass. From “Aeon Flux” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” to “Atomic Blonde,” she’s a versatile actress who conquers these sorts of roles. Her character in “The Old Guard,” a 6000-year old warrior named Andromach the Scythian aka “Andy,” is part Connor MacLeod from “Highlander” and part Trinity from “The Matrix” trilogy. She wields an axe, has been worshiped as a God, and is the oldest of the group of immortals.
Theron plays the role as a drained Furiosa. She’s a force to be reckoned with in combat yet the film hints that she’s tired of living. Andy wants to be mortal and recently took a year off just to get her head straight. The comic book goes more into detail about Andy’s past and while we only get glimpses of her backstory in the film, Prince-Bythewood and Rucka (who also wrote the screenplay) contribute enough backstory to give us a good sense of Andy’s history and frame of mind.
Andy gets the flashback treatment in a few scenes as we see her in centuries-past putting out a “Red Sonja” vibe while engaged in combat alongside fellow immortal and lover Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo of “Da 5 Bloods”). The two women fought side by side throughout history until the Salem Witch Trials separated them and Quynh met her fate at the bottom of the ocean in a grueling scene.
Booker (an excellent Matthias Schoenaerts) is the second oldest member of The Old Guard, having fought alongside Napoleon, and like Andy, his jaded outlook hints at his quest for mortality after out living his four sons. Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) met during The Crusades on opposite sides of the battlefield. After killing each other several times the two immortals became a couple and are now inseparable.
Whenever someone becomes immortal, the others have visions of the newbie’s identity. In this case it’s U.S. Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) who is killed in Afghanistan. Andy extracts her before the government gets their hands on the young soldier who would probably become a lab experiment by the military to create some sort of elite group of commandos.
Every superhero film has to have an enemy and in this story it’s a fitting Big Pharma represented by Harry Melling of “Harry Potter” fame as the CEO of the Merrick corporation. The dweeby bad guy has plans for The Old Guard (insert villainous laugh) that include discovering the secret behind their immortality for, you guessed it, financial gain. Although he says save lives but c’mon, we know better. Merrick probably sits around listening to his one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album while plotting his next move.
Rounding out the cast is Chiwetel Ejiofor as a former CIA agent named Copley who hires The Old Guard for a special mission that involves saving the lives of children being held hostage in South Sudan. You’re never really sure which side Copley is on, but we do know that he recently lost a wife to cancer. Ejiofor is perfect for this role as his character struggles with righteousness and the dilemma of good outweighing the bad.
The story takes place in the present and while our warriors may prefer swords and a battle axe, the weapons of choice are guns. There are scenes that feel reminiscent of “The Matrix” trilogy and of course “The Terminator” films as the immortals are gunned down and killed only to reanimate and get up to continue fighting. The well-choreographed fight scenes are thrilling to watch.
Greg Rucka, who’s worked in both the Marvel and D.C. arenas, has created an exciting new kind of hero brought to life by Theron and this exceptional cast. Gina Prince-Bythewood brings out the benevolence in these characters by using her experience as a director behind “Beyond the Lights,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” and “Love and Basketball.” There is an underlying romantic tone to The Old Guard, fierce warriors but hopeless romantics, even when jaded.
Summer is the perfect season for superhero films. “The Old Guard” fills the void this year with a story that will leave you wanting more. The film ends with a hint to a sequel and Rucka, along with artist Leandro Fernández, explores what happens next in the comic book sequel “The Old Guard: Force Multiplied.” We may have to wait a couple of years, put let’s keep our fingers cross that we haven’t seen the last of these timeless warriors.
(3 ½ stars)
Now streaming on Netflix