Comic book films are two a penny these days – Marvel and DC have carved out their own universes, with the former creating an intertwined and grand narrative unmatched in the film making, while DC have changed tactics by releasing individual unique experiences to varying degrees of success. With these two juggernauts dominating the conversation to such a degree that sometimes other comic book adaptations can get lost in the noise. The Old Guard comes somewhat from left field, it’s a violent mid-budget comic book film adapted from source material barely anyone has heard of and released immediately to stream on Netflix.
The Old Guard immediately grabs the views attention with its striking and exciting opening fight sequence, it’s far better than the typical action movie fayre, this sequence gives the viewer immediate character development and introduces us to what makes this film unique. We meet Andy (Charlize Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) as they attempt to save a group children being held hostage in a military camp, but the kids they are trying to save turn out to be a group of mercenaries whose purpose is to reveal their secret – we learn in this first sequence that our protagonists are immortal with their gun shot wounds immediately healing Wolverine style, their centuries long lives as warriors mean they’re skills in battle are unmatched – they can dispense of their enemies easily. The frenetic action is well shot, director Gina Prince-Bythewood in her first action film has great skill with capturing the crunch of a punch or the fluid movements of a dodge.
This opening sequence sets the story in motion as some evil conglomerate tries to exploit these powers for evil deeds, but in the guise of helping others – it’s here we enter mundane and well trodden territory of comic book films and the villain played by Harry Melling is unconvincing and silly, when he should be menacing and complex, he comes across like villain from a different film, all he would need to be a more obviously sign posted “bad guy” is a moustache to twirl. We also encounter a new member in the immortal fold Nile (KiKi Layne), a US marine serving in Afghanistan – whose introduction enables the audience to experience the much needed back story for the heroes and enables the script to delve deeper into the moral quandaries of morality and immortality. Charlize Theron is the stand-out of the film, her performance as a 7th century warrior whose devotion to her adopted family is poignant, you can see the pain in her eyes from the ones she’s lost over the the years – it’s the multi-layered performance you’d expect from an actress of her calibre, Theron would be forgiven for phoning it in here, she doesn’t and she holds the film together even when it threatens to fall a part. Supporting characters do a mostly admirable job, Kiki Layne proves convincing as a hard as nails marine, whose morality is tested after killing someone for the first time – the script sadly doesn’t quite explore this as well as it could, but it’s a decent effort none-the-less.
The Old Guard’s surprise is the gay relationship between Joe and Nikki, it’s a sad moment when it takes till 2020 for Hollywood to feature completely out gay characters, that even share a kiss – but at the same time the characters are handled excellently and major props to the creators for the representation and how well the characters are handled. These are side-characters whose relationship is treated with as much respect as any romance from a comic book film – it’s satisfying.
The film feels ever so slightly too long and occasionally exhibits moments where the lower budget becomes more obvious. Some of the sets can feel empty, especially in final showdown where they feel cheaply put together. The music choices are… interesting, a forgettable score is made worse by the inclusion of modern pop and hip hop that feel incredibly out of place. It’s a shame as there are plenty of opportunities for the music to heighten both the action and the drama, instead I found the music made me raise my eyebrows with how out of synch it was with the film.
The Old Guard is a brilliantly directed action film, with fantastic LGBT representation and a stunning performance from Charlize Theron rarely seen in comic book adaptations. Despite a by-the-numbers plot, the unique protagonists and interesting fight sequences keep the film engaging. The biggest issue I had with the film was the horrendous music choices that come out of no-where and don’t fit the film at all. I would love to see where a sequel will take the franchise and I hope with the films streaming success we get to see one.
- Excellent action sequences
- Incredible performance from Charlize Theron
- Fantastic LGBT representation
- Mostly adept character work
- Interesting mythology
- Awful music choices
- Been there done that plot
- Cheesy villain
- Missed opportunity with exploration of morality and mortality
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