The Old Guard (2020)

The Old Guard

The Old Guard is a kind of action film that is so sure of itself that it is unafraid to slow down. And because of that, I really liked the film and enjoyed every minute of it.

As the film opens we see Andy (Charlize Theron) bloodied and laying on the floor. With the image, we get her narration:

I’ve been here before. Over and over again. And each time the same question. Is this it? Will this time be the one? And each time the same answer. And I’m just so tired of it.

The Old Guard follows a group of four warriors who seem to be immortal: Andy, Booker (Mattias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marielli). They have been around for a very long time, so long that Andy can’t remember how old she is (or can she?). The group has fought throughout time and has changed the world in significant ways. When asked if they are the good guys or bad guys, one warrior replies, “Depends on the century.” As the film opens, they take a job from a former CIA operative, Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to rescue a group of kidnapped children. Things go south on the mission, which leads them to seek out Nile (KiKi Layne) who is a Marine in Afghanastan who discovers that she also has similar powers to Andy and team. The main antagonist is Merrick (Harry Melling), an easy to hate young hoodie wearing pharma billionaire who is looking to cure humanity of disease – you can see where this story is going.

Just because we keep living, it doesn’t mean we stop hurting.

I loved that this film doesn’t use immortality as these people’s “super power” and leave it at that. It takes time to explore what comes with immortality – to outlive those whom you love and care for and being unable to make any meaningful connections with others outside of the few that have your own powers. It explores aspects of immortality like the idea of what happens if one is captured and caged or tortured or drowned over and over again. A lesser film would have labeled the characters as immortal, had a few awesome action scenes and called it a day. The Old Guard does not take that shortcut and it is a better film for that.

It’s not what time steals, it’s what it leaves behind. Things you can’t forget.

The direction by Gina Prince-Bythewood is excellent. She allows scenes to play out and lets the camera linger on characters without the need to cut away – giving characters time to express themselves, even if they are not speaking. It is a sure-handed direction that leads to an action film that is more thoughtful than other summer blockbuster films, I appreciate her style. It is the quiet moments that make the action sequences even better – by lingering on characters and letting the audience see their sadness and understanding the curse of immortality that the audience grows closer and bonds with the characters. Prince-Bythewood allows for all of this, but also puts together some thrilling set pieces.

I was impressed that all the action scenes are filmed in bright well-lit places. Instead of hiding the stunt work and action in darkness, Prince-Bythewood shoots them so that everyone can see clearly what is happening. This accentuates the action and makes it even better.

Charlize Theron, well, she’s always great. And ever since she became an action hero in Max Mad: Fury Road, she’s been on a roll – she is the perfect balance of Oscar-winning actor plus badass action hero. She has two excellent action pieces that show off her badassness. The first is with Layne in a plane. The two of them fight hand-to-hand in an exciting scene. The second scene is her fight in a glass hallway/bridge with a security guard that was so exhilarating that I was cringing at the hits.

This is the first time I have seen a film with KiKi Layne. She is great and I look forward to seeing her in more films. She holds her own opposite Theron. Schoenaerts (who looks and sounds like a young Andy Garcia) is also fantastic in the film. His scene with Layne describing immortality and the curse it can be when it comes to family and friends was perfect. Ejiofor was Ejiofor in the film, great actor, but not really flexing his acting muscles. Worth mentioning is Melling as Merrick. Oh my, he plays the character so well that I hated him even before he opened his mouth and spouted off his first lines.

The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd and Tami Reiker is beautifully done.

My only real criticism of the film is the score by Volker Bertelmann and Dustin O’Halloran which does the job while the film is flowing, but in the end is a bit forgettable.

I really enjoyed The Old Guard because it took time between action sequences to slow down and explore the characters and immortality. The action scenes are kinetic and makes good use of the powers of the characters. Some may find this film a little too slow for a summer blockbuster, but I admire that the filmmakers took the time to explore the themes of immortality.

Watched at home, streamed on Netflix.

Spoilers

After the horrific story about Andy and Quynh – and the ultimate fate of Quynh, I knew that she would return sometime in the film. I also knew that a smart film would not have a cheap twist of Quynh being behind what was happening. So, it took me by surprise at the end of the film when “The Old Guard” title card showed up and there was no return of Quynh – then I was doubly surprised by the post title card scene where she did show up again.

For the duration of the film’s running time, I had feelings that they were doing a lot of world building. Setting up Copley as a kind of “tech guy” who could cover the footprints of the team in a world of increasing surveillance was obvious. But having a scene pop up right before the credits rolled building towards a sequel kind of took away from the film. Instead of a self-contained film that it was up until that point, the few seconds after the title card turned the film into a quasi TV pilot – one that could turn out multiple sequels. While the film is undeniably entertaining and I hope they do make a few sequels, I wish that the filmmakers did not have to end the film the way that they did.

Sometimes you got to work with people you don’t want to eat with.


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