The Old Guard is a new Netflix movie based on the graphic novel by Leandro Fernández and Greg Rucka (who also handled the screenplay) and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. With a strong cast headlined by Charlize Theron and Chiwetel Ejiofor, I was optimistic going in and, pleasingly, I wasn't disappointed either. The Old Guard might be an elderly bunch, but they still have a few new tricks to share.
First things first, Charlize Theron steals the show with a stoic and stern-faced performance as Andromache the Scythian. Andy, as she's known to her friends, leads a small cadre of warriors who battle injustice from the shadows. They're able to do this because, well, they can't die, and any injuries they receive quickly heal. This is what happens when they're betrayed by former CIA-man Chiwetel Ejiofor, and after being set up to fail, we see them rise from the dead to massacre the team of mercenaries who thought they had just killed them. It's clear that Andy and her pals Booker, Joe, and Nicky are now on the radar of... well, someone.
And so Andy, a fearsome warrior who has battled her way through the ages, must lead her team of immortals and avoid capture at the hands of those who would harm them. I can't go into their various motivations for fear of spoiling the story, but I can say that a new dimension is added to the mix when a young U.S. Marine, Nile, is killed while on tour in Afganistan. It turns out that she's immortal too, and after returning to life and sharing dreams with the rest of the team, they find each other and four becomes five.
That's all I'm going to tell you about the story, but it's not a spoiler to say that the action takes place over many hundreds of years, and there are lots of flashbacks that take us back to distant times, where Andy, in particular, goes through some troubling ordeals - ordeals that make her the woman she is today: thoughtful, contemplative, and questioning the work that she does. If anything, there isn't enough of these moments, and in the end, I think the modern-day sequences would have benefitted from having stronger historical roots to anchor the overall narrative and give more substance to the ensemble.
Needless to say, there's a lot of action. Going up against a lot of similar-looking mercs in black combat suits, the immortal warriors battle through wave after wave of enemies as they look to evade their new-found enemies. The combat is slick, with impactful special effects and a gritty, hard-boiled edge that veins through the whole movie. While I got the sense that the same anonymous actors in combat blacks got killed again and again in different sequences, there was at least some creativity in terms of how they were dispatched. These soldiers are acting on the orders of loopy villain-in-chief Merrick (Harry Melling), who was very easy to dislike, although perhaps we could have spent a bit more time with him to really firm up his evil credentials.
Of course, given the theme of immortality, it's hard not to draw comparisons between this and Highlander, which also had a penchant for antique weapons and a cast of characters who battled their way through the pages of history. That said, Highlander was able to pin a lot of its story on just one character, Connor MacLeod. We don't get the same detailed character work in The Old Guard, which is a real shame because these immortals and their stories are genuinely interesting and I wanted to know much more about all them, not just Andy. Things were left wide open for a sequel, but rather than a simple continuation of the modern-day narrative, we'd also like to know more about what happened in the past. If this is going to become a franchise rather than a one-off, that's certainly something that I want to see explored in more detail.
Almost in spite of the slick action scenes and a few questionable plot twists, The Old Guard also poses a few philosophical questions about the nature of mortality, with fresh-faced recruit Nile (KiKi Layne) giving us a newcomer's perspective to the pros and cons of never-ending life. Andy and the gang have spent countless generations skirting around the edges of history, helping those in need like a sword-wielding A-Team for the ages, but what does that mean for Nile and those she loves? Does she even have a choice?
The exploits of this immortal hit-squad and the collision between them and the powers that be makes for a most tempting proposition. My interest is certainly piqued and I'd like to see The Old Guard return for a follow up that gives its characters and their stories more room to breathe. This first outing, if that's what it is, has laid solid foundations. Here's hoping that they can be built on with more expansive future adventures.