With the superhero sub-genre being well and truly run by the conglomerate, comic book giants of Marvel and DC, it seems there’s little room for others to cash in on the mass appeal. That hasn’t stopped Netflix, with the help of director Gina Prince-Bythewood, bringing Image comics’ The Old Guard into the limelight.
The story focuses on Andy (Charlize Theron). The leader of a group of immortal mercenaries, who spend centuries fighting for whatever they believe is right. Each slicing and dicing their way through history, whilst also trying to remain in the shadows. In the digital age of the 21st century however, it becomes much harder for them to operate covertly. This is where they peak the interest of Merrick (Harry Melling). A pharmaceutical sociopath who believes he can profit handsomely from the teams unique attributes. With the aid of a newly discovered member Nile (Kiki Layne), the team attempt to do what it is they do best. Eradicate those who aim to exploit their power.
The Old Guard has an intriguing premise. It’s by no means an original concept, but it does enough to distance itself from the rest of the market. It fundamentally covers what it needs to without forcing too much down your throat, and for the most part, the story is well executed. It does however have an ambitious runtime. There’s enough scenes throughout that could be wrapped up in half the time that has been given, and you’d have every reason to start dozing off in chapters.
Where the movie should excel the most relies on what it attempts to do with its action sequences. We know the hero’s are immortal (although not completely as you’ll find out), so how they would create a sense of peril and high stakes was at the forefront of my mind when it came to the nitty gritty. The paper thin duplicitous villain duo of Merrick and Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), do very little to create that all important sense of threat (after all, this group have been involved in some of histories most important battles). Harry Melling (who you may remember as Dudley from the Harry Potter franchise) feels incredibly miscast and Ejiofor comes across as rather pointless.
The opening sequence boasted some potential. Our hero’s are sprayed with bullets, immediately presumed dead. That is until we gradually witness the wounds in their skin repair themselves, and it’s realised what sort of people we’re dealing with. The following sequences, which are leisurely layered throughout the script, fail to reach that level of intensity, or interest for that matter. This isn’t always the fault of camerawork, or fight choreography, but mainly the shamefully misplaced soundtrack. Instead of some rigorous, scene propelling, orchestral magnetism, we’re merely given some pop nonsense plucked straight from a 13 year old’s Spotify playlist. Turning potentially high grade action into a slew of nonchalant nightmares.
This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen Charlize Theron play an immortal femme fatale (Hancock already ticked that box years ago), but at least this time she’s front and centre. She has demonstrated she has the ability to take on an action role on more than one occasion, so there’s no real surprise that she landed the job here. Theron’s performance is a clear standout of this film adaptation. Most of its plot devices fall on her character to deliver and thankfully like she has done many times in her career, provides exactly what is necessary.
Gina Prince-Bythewood’s direction seems a little befuddled. It attempts to steer clear of what has become common place within the industry. Not only as a superhero movie, but an action flick in general. But in its attempts, it fails to create a coherent bridge between cliché and creative complacency. The movie hits it highs with Theron and her cohorts just exercising the basics within their roles, and not with its heavy hitting action or intriguing world building.
The Old Guard may not be breaking down any barriers, but there is enough here to prosper from a highly hinted sequel. Netflix has the start of what could become a great franchise if they tweak some of the creative choices made in its opener.