This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all movies, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
The Old Guard is a 2020 action, Netflix Original movie, directed by Gina-Prince Bythewood and starring Charlize Theron as the leader of an immortal group of warriors who have fought from the shadows for thousands of years for what they believe is right, but their identity is now in jeopardy to be revealed to the world and have to fight to keep it secret, all the while a new member joins the group.
Before I start, I just want to make a confession: Usually, if you pitch a Netflix Original movie that is an adaptation of a graphic novel about immortal warriors (aka superheroes but without the license fee) I’m going to pass that up – it’s just not my thing. That is how much I adore Charlize Theron as an actor; I will literally see her in any movie, regardless of how much that movie appeals to me, and have tried to keep up with her career (she is a very busy lady) and rarely does she disappoint. That’s not to say she’s not in bad movies, but it is to say that I rarely have anything bad to say about her and I’m biased in that way.
Having said that, The Old Guard surprised me in a few key ways and then let me down in those same efforts; I went in wanting to see Charlize kick some butt and exited feeling sort of disappointed by how many ideas this movie has but rarely follows through with them. First of all, that original impression of what this movie is – superhero movie without the license fee – is plainly wrong; not to suggest that this is a realistic action movie, but it is to say that this is not Black Widow without the IP. There is a great set up here, some good character work, and enough unique and supernatural world-building that makes the movie have a distinct identity. Moreover, there’s enough skill and hard work put into the action scenes, the directing and visual storytelling that it can hold its own against most other modern action movies – it still suffers from the blandness that permeates most of those movies with action scenes so “fake” that I’m kind of fatigued by them and completely numb to their attempts to raise the stakes.
What actually achieved that in The Old Guard, and what I hope gets revisited with more intent and exploration next time round (if there is a sequel as teased by the ending), what made me care about the characters and raised the stakes considerably is how the premise is not treated as a dumb excuse for action set-pieces, but an exploration of some thematic questions and pondering on human nature; namely, how do you have stakes when your main characters are immortal and when certain experiences break a person’s will to keep fighting, how do you get that back and is it even worth it if the world will seemingly not change? These are questions asked by the movie and never really answered or explored in a meaningful way, but it is still an interesting idea that did keep me invested. They do come up with a few great moments, revolving around those questions, but ultimately, they wrap things up in a very disappointing way; without spoilers, they create more traditional stakes by the end, and ponderings of human nature are reflected on characters but end in a very safe way.
At the end of the day, what I guessed would be my favorite thing about this movie, despite some surprises and let downs along the way, still ended up being my favorite thing, and that was Charlize; once again, she is excellent in a lead role in an action movie. She cleared worked on the choreography of certain scenes, she does exceptionally well in bringing a class to a character that usually we don’t see, and carries this movie on her shoulders; she’s given this noir character that’s nihilistic and is mostly done fighting, and elevates that experience by managing to convey that spark she has still lingering, but hiding that (and her humanity) under layers of sarcasm and the façade of this troubled warrior she has made for herself, without making her character boring or unlikeable – it’s nuanced, it’s spot on, and it makes for great entertainment.
Unfortunately, there isn’t that much else of note here; every other actor is fine at their role; direction and cinematography are good; the writing is both surprising and disappointing; the action is solid but a bit too safe. This is a GOOD movie and its worth a watch, but I do hope they are more ambitious with the sequel.