12 Aug 2020

The Old Guard

From At The Movies, 7:33 pm on 12 August 2020

The Old Guard is a Netflix B-movie but with A-movie star Charlize Theron. She's the leader of a group of immortal superheroes that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor and KiKi Layne.

Simon Morris: Could a superhero gang led by Charlize Theron and born in medieval times be any more me, I wondered?

Well yes, it could. The Old Guard could certainly use more jokes and better characters for a start.

We meet Nile - an American marine in Afghanistan. One day she runs into trouble and gets killed. Or does she?

Her body revives in the back of a jeep driven by a tough cookie called Andy - it's short for 'Andromache' - played by Charlize.

Nile tries to escape, but she's recaptured by Andy who tells her she's immortal.

Wait, immortal? Tell us more.

But, despite the fact that Andy is relegated to rather more exposition duty than an action star usually has to deliver, she remains remarkably short on detail.

But she does introduce Nile to their fellow immortals - Booker, Joe and Nicky. That's right, there are just five of these immortals in the world. And they've been around for hundreds of years.

How? Why? Do you want boring explanations, or do you want more kick-ass action?

The Old Guard - a name so generic I kept forgetting it - is based on a comic-book series by Greg Rukka, who also wrote the script.

It has all the hallmarks of a pilot for a TV series including a cliff-hanger ending, except for the presence of Charlize, who you'd think doesn't need to do this sort of thing any more.

Perhaps she did it as a personal favour for the director - the exotically named Gina Prince-Bythewood, who sounds like she should be a member of an ages-old group of superheroes.

But I digress. The plot - what little there is for a film over two hours long - involves Merrick, the villainous head of a chemical firm, and his conflicted offsider Copley, played by perennial good sport Chiwetel Ejiofor.

They're both anxious to capture the gang of immortals and find out what makes them keep ticking.

Perhaps once they discover the secret of The Old Guard - interestingly, our heroes are never actually called that - maybe they can let the rest of us know.

The film suffers from all the failings of a comic-book movie - too much action at the expense of story - and none of the pleasures. There's very little humour, and calling the characters "wafer-thin" is an insult to wafers.

There are glimmers of something a little better in The Old Guard - mostly from the actors. Charlize and Chiwetel are always good to watch, and so is newcomer Kiki Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) as Nile.

But the secret to a good comic-book movie is you've got to believe. That's why the makers of The Avengers and Wonder Woman succeed... and why The Old Guard is currently only viewable on Netflix.

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