“The Old Guard” Movie Review


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     It would seem Charlize Theron has settled in nicely within the cinematic world of action hero badassery with recent starring roles in “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), “Atomic Blonde” (2017), as well as a now recurring character in the “Fast & Furious” franchise.  And given her Oscar winning acting chops, she can practically play these characters in her sleep, which may explain her latest foray into the genre, “The Old Guard”.  A Netlfix offering which sees her stepping into the superhero world for the first time, though the premise is anything but original.  Action fans craving theater quality set pieces will probably laud director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s latest, especially if Netlfix’s recent film “Extraction” is your idea of high level mayhem.  The two are one and the same once the bullets begin to fly, as is the derivative storyline lifted from just about everything we’ve already seen many times before.

     No doubt, these superhero flicks are getting tricky to make.  With both the Marvel and DC behemoths to somehow counter, the sheer creation of a new and original concept can be daunting if not impossible.  “The Old Guard” is based on Greg Rucka’s graphic novel series which tells the story of a small band of immortals who throughout the centuries have been involved in many of the historical events we otherwise would have credited to the more famous figures depicted in our text books.  They were the difference makers who didn’t get all the press, but significantly contributed to the outcome of these events.  And their lone superpower? 

     They can’t die, which means shooting or bludgeoning them proves useless.  Like a very popular member of the “X-Men”, they heal immediately and are right back in the fight.  Aside from their considerable skills with weapons and hand to hand combat, they possess nothing more than their own physical gifts. As a whole, they’re also quite boring.  Led by Andy (Charlize Theron), the group, which is comprised of Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) are ageless, having found each other over the centuries by way of vivid dreams they believe lead them to one another.  The story here begins when the band of mercenaries for hire begin having these visions once again.

     Nile (KiKi Layne) is a Marine stationed in Afghanistan, who we first meet during a mission to locate a known terrorist living amongst a peaceful village.  As her team moves in and corners the man, the inevitable skirmish leads to her having her throat slit.  Her teammates desperately try to stop the bleeding, but the outcome of the devastating injury appears grim.  That’s until Nile awakens in a hospital bed without a scratch on her.  A site that clearly has her co-workers spooked and one that has her set to transfer from the base.  Of course, Andy and her team have seen all of this in their minds, with the group’s leader taking on the task of finding and retrieving her.

     Now look, all films of this genre have a number of conveniences built into the plot in order to move the story along, but Rucka (who also penned the script) and Prince-Bythewood leave an unforgivable plot hole in what is perhaps the most important sequence in the story, and are seemingly unapologetic for doing so.  

     When I say Nile is being transferred, it means right then and there.  As two Marines are escorting her from the hospital to transportation, the thin as a rail Andy shows up and knocks both of them out with punches instantly.  She does the same to Nile and then we instantly cut to a scene seeing the two of them driving in a Humvee somewhere in the desert, presumably shortly after Andy and Nile left the base.  So think about this.  Andy, while wearing a skin tight black outfit, sneaks on to a Marine base in the theater of war, finds Nile’s location within that base, KO’s two armed Marines within seconds, and kidnaps Nile against her will.  

     She then either sneaks off the base to a waiting vehicle or steals a vehicle and gets through what would be high level gate security, and does so without the base going on alert due to an intruder.  In this scenario, wouldn’t the two Marines wake up and immediately tell their superiors? Wouldn’t those superiors then alert theirs to the fact a Marine has been kidnapped by an unknown and hostile infiltrator?  I’d think at that point every resource available, land and air, would be dedicated to finding Nile.

     But somehow, they make it to an airfield and facilitate their escape in a waiting cargo plane without any resistance at all.  And that’s even with a detour inserted into the trip for the purposes of Andy and Nile having a character building moment.  It is these kinds of things that clearly bother me when the writers are too lazy to find a logical way for the characters to go from point A to point B.  Here, they just make it up as they go along, ensuring the entire first act feels as though they have no obligation to treat the audience with any level of intelligence.  Many action films like this don’t, but “The Old Guard” appears to be one of the more egregious recent examples.

     Essentially, the plot revolves around a double cross that sees an ex-CIA type, Copley (Chiwetel Ejoifor wasted in a middling role), luring the group, who now boasts Nile as a reluctant member, into the custody of an evil and well armed research corporation who aims to study their blood in an effort to develop dementia treatments.  Or something like that.  In truth, it doesn’t matter, since the bulk of this has Prince-Bythewood staging action sequences ripped straight from the influences of “The Raid” and “John Wick”, which again were on full display just last month in “Extraction”.  It’s an action film trend I guess, but in a film filled with characters who lack the charisma to carry it, “The Old Guard” is nonetheless approaching the kind of numbing territory one would get after sitting through all of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” films. GRADE: C