REVIEW: The Old Guard (2020)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a review of The Old Guard — Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.

Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Old Guard is a straight-to-Netflix superhero action film that is based on the comic book of the same name, which was written by the film’s screenwriter Greg Rucka. The Old Guard follows a group of four warriors led by Andromache “Andy” of Scythia (played by Charlize Theron). Each of these warriors is superpowered with regenerative healing abilities, which means that they can all survive being killed. After the superpowered vigilante squad survive an ambush on a mission in South Sudan, they soon realize that they are being hunted by someone who wants the power that they possess, and, meanwhile, they have visions that indicate that there is a potential new recruit in the United States Marine Corps, Nile Freeman (played by KiKi Layne).

I think Netflix needs a marketable blockbuster-like film franchise. Films like Michael Bay’s Six Underground, Sam Hargrave’s Extraction, and David Ayer’s Bright may, in time, get sequels, but I think Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Old Guard is the Netflix Original Film most suited to be Netflix’s first major film franchise. The film has an A-list actress in the leading role, recognizable performers in notable supporting roles, and it also has both adequate action and solid worldbuilding, as the main characters have been around for centuries. You could feasibly make both sequels, prequels, and spin-offs based on this first film.

Comic book films about superpowered individuals were obviously incredibly popular in the previous two decades, but you need more than that to craft a true franchise-starter. It helps that the cast is recognizable and uniformly solid. The film features up-and-coming actors like KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) and Marwan Kenzari (Aladdin) in fairly prominent roles, European stars like Matthias Schoenaerts (A Bigger Splash) and the somewhat lesser-known Luca Marinelli, BAFTA-award winning actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave) in a supporting but pivotal role, and the always-excellent international star Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road; Tully) in the lead role.

Though the film is structured as if it is a ‘passing of the torch’ from Andromache of Scythia to Nile Freeman, Charlize Theron is, again, at the center of the film, and she is compelling as “Andy”. Although the action is nothing special when compared to Netflix’s Extraction or the Theron-led Atomic Blonde, the characters in The Old Guard worked better for me than the characters did in those two aforementioned films. I was impressed by how much I actually ended up caring about Kenzari and Marinelli’s characters. Initially, their roles appear to be rather small, but they have scenes together that made me greatly appreciate the performances and the characters’ relationship. Also, although I wanted more, I loved the glimpses that we got into Andromache’s past.

But, with all of this having been said, I can’t say that I fell head over heels in love with this film. Even though The Old Guard has a lot of franchise-potential, I think this first film is just okay. While the film is not exactly boring, certain scenes definitely drag, and the film does feel overlong. I thought it was a bad decision to pair the film with so many poppy tunes. The songs are fine on their own, but, frankly, I thought it was jarring whenever a pop song would play during the movie, as I don’t at all think they work well with the world that the film built.

The main story isn’t very original. We’ve all seen plenty of films about superpowered individuals that bemoan the burden of immortality, and I don’t think the film deals with these themes as successfully as James Mangold’s Wolverine films did. I will also say that while I was very intrigued by the film’s lore, and impressed by its world-building, I wish the film would’ve actually explained the main character’s background in more detail. Again, every time the film gave us a glimpse into Andromache’s past, I wanted much more, and, admittedly, I do think this film would have been much more interesting if it was actually set in the past.

Although Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Old Guard may appear a little rough around the edges, due, in part, to the familiar story and the film’s pacing issues, this superhero action flick has plenty of franchise-potential, as it features solid worldbuilding, as well as character relationships about which you actually care.

6.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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