THE OLD GUARD: A High-Octane Yet Overlong Pulpy Action

“It’s Charlize Teron‘s world, and we’re just living in it,” might be the perfect sentence to describe The Old Guard, a thrilling action drama based on Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez‘s comic book of the same name. Granted, Theron, whose iconic performances as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road and Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde have turned her into a formidable action star, further proves her versatility in playing challenging roles here in this movie, displaying steeliness and tenacity in a way that only her could pull off.

While for the premise, The Old Guard doesn’t entirely tell a story that we haven’t been familiar with before; a group of soldiers who are immortal and have been fighting plenty of battles for centuries certainly doesn’t sound that exciting, right? But fret not as nearly every detail in this movie — from the choreography and the set design to the camerawork — is well executed. And that should be enough to make The Old Guard worth checking out despite a number of narrative issues.

Meet The Old Guard

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard focuses on four mercenaries who seemingly can’t die. Theron‘s Andy, who’s been alive since ancient Greece, is the leader of the pack, with Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) completing the quartet. When we first meet them, they are about to go on a mission of saving a group of students who have just been kidnapped by a militia in the southwest of Juba.

The man who hires them is an ex-CIA officer named Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor). At first, he seems pretty genuine. But of course, that’s not the case. When Andy and company are trying to locate the place of the kidnapping, they are ambushed by a group of soldiers. And unsurprisingly, it’s Copley who is responsible for this attack. He is now working for a businessman in London named Merrick (Harry Melling), who wants to monetize Andy’s immortality for his own gain. But thanks to centuries of training, Andy and the others manage to survive and kill all the soldiers before hopping on a train to run away from Merrick and Copley.

THE OLD GUARD: A High-Octane Yet Overlong Pulpy Action
source: Netflix

While trying to come up with a survival plan, Andy and the others find out that there might be someone out there who shares the same ability as them and needs some protection. That someone is Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne), a US Navy who’s confused and panicked after discovering that she’s immortal. From this moment, The Old Guard only gets more interesting, if a little overcomplicated and overlong, as we follow Andy and company in two interconnected storylines. First is the complications of the whole Merling and Copley fiasco, which is portrayed by Prince-Bythewood and Rucka in an exciting way, complete with a propulsive set of actions and kinetic camerawork capturing all the fight scenes in details.

When The Old Guard zooms in on its action elements, the movie is at its absolute best. It features plenty of inventive fighting choreographies and a heart-pumping score that elevates the scene more. And while doing so, it doesn’t hold anything back. There’s even an action scene between Layne and Merling near the end of the movie that will without a doubt make the audience gasp. But unfortunately, the second storyline that focuses more on Nile’s fish-out-of-water plot and the origination of the other characters often make the movie lose some of its steam along the way. And it’s not just because of the stiff dialogue. There’s a lot of time throughout the movie when the pace just feels really off. One moment we get an explosive fighting sequence, then a moment after, everything suddenly becomes quiet in a way that feels incoherent, and even a little jarring.

THE OLD GUARD: A High-Octane Yet Overlong Pulpy Action
source: Netflix

Of course, it’s totally understandable that the movie wants to aim for a smaller, understated character-driven moment to make the story more emotionally resonant. But in The Old Guard case, everything feels forced to a point that the quieter moments do not feel sincere any more. And instead of trusting the actors to flesh out the vulnerabilities and pain that their characters have, The Old Guard chooses to overstuff the story with plenty of unnecessary flashbacks.

It’s actually a little frustrating to see this, especially given how phenomenal all the cast is. Layne, whose breakthrough performance in Barry JenkinsIf Beale Street Could Talk garnered a lot of praise, shows that she’s here for a long time. Schoenaerts also continues proving himself as one of the greatest working actors today, with Kenzari and Marinelli on the side, bringing a much-needed levity to an otherwise very violent movie with their impeccable comedic timing. But of course, it’s Theron who stands out amongst the rest of the ensemble, offering an excellent magnitude of determination to the screen in a masterful way. If only the movie knew how to utilize this level of talent brilliantly, no doubt it would’ve been twice as good.

On Immortality and Greed

All flaws aside though, there are actually a few interesting questions about life and death that The Old Guard manages to bring out. But one subject that the movie most excels at is the toll of the immortality that each of the characters is facing. Take, for instance, Andy, a soldier who’s lived for centuries and has experienced so many losses. On one hand, she looks composed and tough from the outside. But on the other hand, Andy is someone who’s been subjected to so much trauma throughout her life that she doesn’t understand the concept of pain, both physically and emotionally, anymore.

THE OLD GUARD: A High-Octane Yet Overlong Pulpy Action
source: Netflix

Through Andy, and also the other characters, The Old Guard shows us that living an immortal life is actually not ideal. Yes, you may not die, but while you keep staying alive, the people around you will still die and leave you alone. The movie also tries to address the subject of greed through a storyline involving Merrick. In the movie, this character represents how human beings, especially the ones in the higher-ups of a corporate ladder, are often willing to do literally anything to exploit something for their own benefit, even if it means risking other people’s lives.

Of course, this is not the first movie that brings out these two topics, nor does it say something new or deep about it. But still, it’s enough to elevate The Old Guard from just another pulpy action drama into a movie that is a little more enthralling. Let’s hope that if there’s going be a sequel in the future — which might be the case, considering the continuation of the original source and how the movie ends — it will explore these subjects at least a little deeper.

Final Thought

While there are narrative shortcomings to be found throughout, The Old Guard, for the most part, sets out what it wants to achieve in the first place: delivering propulsive sets of action, plenty of over-the-top violence, and breathtaking vigorous energy from one of the most iconic action stars of our generation, Charlize Theron. Immortality achieved.

What do you think of the movie? Let us know in the comments below!

The Old Guard will be available on July 10th on Netflix.

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