Props to director Gina Prince-Bythewood. Here’s a filmmaker who can handle both touching, if formulaic, dramas (Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees) and, as she proves with Netflix’s The Old Guard, a somewhat thrilling, if formulaic, action flick. Perhaps comic-book movie fatigue is settling in, but the tropes, as cloaked as they are here with a thick armor of solemnity and a pretense of fleshed-out characters, have become extraordinarily wearying. Still, the film is buoyed by Charlize Theron’s fierceness and a few shining moments of true inspiration. Roll with the inherent silliness of it all, and you may just have a good time.
A group of immortals (who are not really immortal…don’t ask), led by Andy (Charlize Theron), decide to end their year-long hiatus from stopping wars and other such calamities. A CIA agent, Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), sets them up on a fake mission to South Sudan; turns out – surprise! – he actually works for Merrick (Harry Melling), a squirrely, megalomaniac pharma magnate, who yearns to extend humanity’s average lifespan.
“…two of the immortals are captured by the evil Merrick to extract their eternal genes…”
In the meantime, in Afghanistan, Combat Marine Nile (KiKi Layne) gets slashed in the throat, then promptly recovers with nary a scar. This understandably freaks her out, along with her sisters-in-combat. Before Nile gets sent home, Andy swoops in and kidnaps our hapless hero (immortals can dream of each other, you see…don’t ask). A few tussles and a plane ride later, Nile meets the team and learns some of their centuries-old secrets – chief one involving Andy and her first-ever friend Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo). When two of the immortals are captured by the evil Merrick to extract their eternal genes, Andy, Nile, and Andy’s right-hand man Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts) embark on a mission to retrieve their teammates. I’ll let you find out whether or not this film ends in a bullet-ridden showdown.
Nitpicking aside, Prince-Bythewood handles the change of pace with grace. Who knew she could (or would) orchestrate an intense and intensely violent action sequence? The filmmaker does what she can to apply her background of creating memorable characters in small dramas to this bombastic affair, and she succeeds to a certain degree, infusing it with a modicum of depth. She’s helped immensely by her leads – Charlize glowering while wielding an axe, Layne believably transforming from badass rookie to a more badass warrior. Prince-Bythewood seems to have enjoyed filming the sequences of the two leads bantering the most, as they eclipse the dimwitted plot and dialogue.
"…Prince-Bythewood seems to have enjoyed filming the sequences of the two leads bantering the most"