If 6 Underground, the Michael Bay/Ryan Reynolds movie about mercenaries who fake their deaths and live a life of secrecy, wasn’t a terrible movie and was more supernatural, then it would look something like The Old Guard, Netflix’s newest big budget action offering. With Charlize Theron in the lead role and a comic book origin, this film is almost guaranteed to be a success on Netflix. While it never lives up to the potential that the inventive plot and great performances promise, it is a decent background watch with fun action sequences. It doesn’t live up to many of its other comic-book counterparts, but the representation and the interesting concept do much of the work, and hopefully director Gina Prince-Bythewood finds a better script for the inevitable sequel.
As soon as the film starts, viewers are introduced to Andy (Theron), a skilled mercenary who is sent on an important mission with her three crew members (Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Matthias Schoenaerts) to rescue over a dozen kidnapped kids in South Sudan. Andy and crew are the most talented soldiers in the game, and they take a risk by working with the same CIA agent (Chiwetel Ejiofor) they have worked with before. This risk costs them, for the mission is a trap set by the agent in an attempt to hunt them down. Why? They are immortal warriors who have lived for hundreds of years at the very least, and who have fought for what is right through the Crusades, World War I, and everything in-between. As they are being hunted by this agent and a corrupt entrepreneur (Harry Melling), they also find a new immortal (KiKi Layne) who is scared and confused about what is happening to her.
The introductions of these characters and the explanation of how this world works is where The Old Guard is at its best. Those who start the film without knowing the plot at all would initially think that this is an action thriller along the lines of the Bourne series. But once all four main characters get violently shot to pieces fifteen minutes in, the movie turns into a cross between John Wick and the X-Men franchise. When Andy finds the new recruit and we get to know her backstory is when I was the most invested in this film. If nothing else, each character is excellently fleshed-out, giving every actor a chance to shine. In the first act, all of the backstories really connect with the audience, and each character’s motivation and approach to the events of this film was clear. As the movie continues, however, the characters’ motivations begin to flip, and some people we thought we knew become completely different right in front of our eyes. Films can often make character shifts work, but in The Old Guard they feel sudden and unearned, making viewers wonder why characters acted the way they did. As the movie goes on, the character decisions and the writing and general becomes progressively more disorganized, and because of this I lost interest in the plot by the final act.
The Old Guard is never horrible, but it didn’t interest me too much either. The plot transforms from the training of a confused army soldier who finds out she is immortal to a pharmaceutical company who wants to take advantage of their power to make a profitable drug. The latter drained the intrigue out of the film and made it just another typical superhero film with a cartoonishly evil villain. Near the beginning, Layne’s character calls the morals of the operation into question, and I liked the ambiguity of whether these warriors were good people or not. However, interesting concepts like this are never brought up again and discarded by the script, replaced by a premise that has been done before by mediocre films like X-Men: The Last Stand. The setup here is fun and promising, and while the film never slows down with its great action scenes, it never executes the concepts it introduces in a unique manner. There is plenty of creativity and great ideas behind this movie, but they throw them at a plot that disappoints more than it thrills.
Along with the character development in the first half, the other strong point of The Old Guard is the action sequences. From a stunt-work and a choreography perspective, every scene of action is on fire even if the context behind them isn’t too interesting. From the looks of it, Theron and most of the other actors complete their own stunts, which makes these scenes all the more entertaining to watch and authentic. The camerawork isn’t as good as, say, the John Wick movies or the Mission: Impossible films, but it more than gets the job done for what this movie entails.
However, these scenes could be better, which leads me to my biggest pet peeve about this movie: the music. More often than not, the people in charge of the background music pick pop songs that have absolutely nothing to do with the action on screen and that don’t match the tone of the film. When I’m watching an emotional or suspenseful sequence, I shouldn’t suddenly hear a Marshmello song that I heard on the radio last week. And even if I didn’t know the song, the choices were horrendous and distracting. There is a scene about halfway through where Theron kills all of her attackers in a church, and they play a ridiculous booming song over this scene that sounds like it would be played in 365 Days. This nearly kills the mood and took me right out of the movie multiple times.
The Old Guard is just meh. It is entertaining and has enough potential to be wildly successful, but every time I thought it would get there something always held it back. In the end they include an extremely blatant set-up for a sequel, and while I would be fine with this concept, the way in which they do it feels really forced and out-of-character. They isolate a major character purposely so he could become a future villain, and it makes little to no sense given earlier choices the script makes. I love the cast of this film, the casual LGBTQ representation and the stunt choreography, along with it being directed by a black woman, but nothing else about this film impresses me. I hope in the future the premise and execution can be more creative than it is in The Old Guard. This film is not bad at all when I was watching it, but when I looked back on it there was nothing that will make me remember The Old Guard’s existence in more than a week.
I give The Old Guard a C+.