The Old Guard was a pleasant surprise. Netflix tweeted out descriptions of movies they were planning early in the year, and this sounded good. Then the trailer hit, and it seemed like the most generic attempted franchise starter I’d ever seen. Still, it starred Charlize Theron, so I was going to give it a try. I am glad I did; The Old Guard turned out to be a lot better than its bland trailer suggested it would be.
Charlize Theron stars as Andy, the leader of a group of immortal mercenaries who heal and spring back to life whenever they are killed. A new such immortal, a US Marine named Nile, appears, and Andy goes to recruit her. While still integrating Nile with the team, someone who has learned her secret captures the team with the hopes of figuring the secret to their longevity through medical experiments, leaving only Andy and Nile to rescue them.
It is not the most complex plot, but the movie more than makes up for it with the care it invests in its characters. The movie spends its time giving the characters history, showing their pasts and how eternal life has worn them down. It also takes the time to show more of Nile’s life before her awakening. More so than most action movies, The Old Guard really seems to care about who its characters are outside of what motivates them for the action scenes. It is an investment that pays off, making it easy to invest in an otherwise flimsy plot because you care about who it is happening to. Andy and her team are weighed down by history. They have lived through countless years and countless battles. They have long, not always pleasant histories with each other. Newcomer Nile still has connections with the present day, a family that will miss her when she turns up missing. The movie makes sure you feel the weight that all of these characters feel, the tiredness and the struggle. It really works to make what would be fairly rote action fare feel like it has more depth.
The advertising positioned this movie as Netflix’s answer to superhero movies, but that really isn’t the vibe it exudes. It does not have the slick, pop feel of the Marvel movies. It is more like John Wick than Iron Man; a little darker and a little meaner than one would look for from a superhero movie. Another impressive aspect of The Old Guard is the action. The team may be unkillable, but they use very human fighting tactics. Though nothing in the movie reaches the heights of action sequences in the masterful John Wick movies, there are several impressive sequences in The Old Guard. Teamwork and a combination of old world and modern day fighting are the order of the day. Andy frequently reverts to using an old school battle ax when she has to lay down her machine gun.
The Old Guard isn’t quite like anything else. And once again, Charlize Theron proves that she is a premier action star if she wants to be.