Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Writer: Greg Rucka
Starring: Charlize Theron, KiKi Lane, Matthias Schoenaerts
A covert team of mercenaries led by a warrior named Andy (Theron) with a mysterious inability to die are suddenly exposed and must now fight to keep their identity a secret, while at the same time an unexpected new member is discovered.
So it is another week and therefore we are provided with yet another Netflix action film that so desperately wants to be the first chapter of a long-running franchise, and as usual the wannabe first chapter does not exactly leave us wanting more. The Old Guard certainly has a few interesting ideas within its derivative and cliché-ridden narrative, but this strange superhero / sci-fi hybrid lacks any kind of focus on what it wants to be or exactly what to do with its concept, and though it is just about watchable, it is ultimately an overlong, disjointed and predictable film that will not live long in the memory.
In the words of Brian May and Freddie Mercury; “who wants to live forever?”, and it may quite possibly be the case that those involved with The Old Guard were listening to the Highlander soundtrack when penning the script, as this film certainly does touch on some potentially interesting (but ultimately unfulfilled) philosophical ideas about the fact that immortality is very much a curse and not a gift. This group of people have lived through history, and as a result are understandably very bitter, as not only have they lived through some very dark moments in history, but are unable to get close to anyone who is mortal, as of course any mortal would ultimately resort to bitterness and resentment of a person’s immortality. Likewise, as soon as you realise that you cannot die you have to keep it a secret, as otherwise there will be those mortals that will do anything to learn your secret – as the team’s newest member finds out straight away. Though this provides potential for a more philosophical study of the human condition etc. and potentially ask the pertinent question of whether they should even bother using their ‘gifts’ to help humanity, it just would rather then cut to an action sequence than actually have some integrity and not be afraid to go for a much more profound, character-driven narrative that it ultimately does.
There are also some arguments about how our protagonists have shaped history for the better by saving people that have gone on to do great things, but this is one-sided, naive and patronising, as this completely contradicts the main plot and its antagonists – at the risk of getting very deep and discussing the whole butterfly effect theory of action and consequences, the actions of these characters throughout history could have also inadvertently had very bad consequences. The film does seem to conveniently pick and choose when something is positive and negative, and this just sums up its lack of any real depth. Ultimately The Old Guard just does nothing with its concept other than bring back memories of a far more pertinent question that has always troubled film fans: Whose bright idea was it to cast a Frenchman as a Scot and a Scot as a Spaniard?!?
It is the inevitable consequences of this group of Wolverine’s secret being discovered that drives the ‘plot’, and the main antagonists that drive this are of course characters that are both British, and are in the form of a shady former CIA operative (played by a very bored Chiwetel Ejiofor who just turns up to collect the cheque) whose loyalties are always in question and a young CEO of a global pharmaceutical company who basically wants to be God, played by an overacting Harry Melling – or as most people will know him; Dudley Dursley.
However, there are certainly plenty of plot holes along the way and a few supposed ‘twists’ that are painfully predictable, which makes it hard to really care. While some of the action sequences are well put together and admittedly some of the performances half-decent, due to the character’s immortality it does not only render some action sequences pointless (why would you send a load of goons to fight people that cannot die – no matter how disposable these peripheral characters may well be?), so not only is there just a total lack of danger in both the action sequences and overall plot, but it really does feel like the inclusion of these scenes are both cynical and pointless.
For a film with a concept that is ultimately rather silly, The Old Guard does take itself way too seriously, which is certainly to its detriment, as with much more humour added this could have been an enjoyable action romp and therefore it flaws far more forgivable. Most of the cast certainly seem game, but they are wasted almost as much as the film’s concept – especially the always excellent Matthias Schoenaerts who gives his character a bit of edge, even if the script does not – indeed, none of the characters are given the script that their performances and on-screen chemistry deserve, as they all do make The Old Guard more watchable that it possibly deserves to be. Though it may be just about watchable (and so is at least better than the horrifically migraine-inducing, but also quiet similar in a fair few ways 6 Underground) the only thing that is ultimately memorable about The Old Guard is a couple of final scenes; in the extreme desperation to make this the first chapter of a franchise these scenes are extremely cringe-worthy and pure b-movie nonsense.
The Old Guard does initially have a lot going for it, but a disjointed narrative and lazy script that lack any focus or originality means this one has to ultimately go down as a wasted opportunity – though just about watchable, it is overlong, predictable and highly forgettable. This has to go down as yet another wannabe Netflix franchise that may finish before it has even started!
At time of watching The Old Guard is available to stream on Netflix