Reel Review - The Old Guard (2020)
Title: The Old Guard
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Written by: Greg Rucka
Starring: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Veronica Ngo, Matthias Schoenaerts & Chiwetel Ejiofor
Produced by: David Ellison, Marc Evans, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger, Beth Kono & Charlize Theron
The Old Guard is fun and enjoyable if a little tonally discordant. The film would certainly have benefitted from a cinematic release where bigger pictures and louder sounds would have distracted audiences from some of the on-screen guff. Nevertheless, the action sequences are tight, the acting is largely believable and the story manages to keep viewers engaged for the majority of its two-hour runtime.
The Old Guard follows a small troop of secret immortal mercenaries in their struggle to find purpose. Based on the comic book of the same name by Greg Rucka, The Old Guard boasts an all-star cast that includes Charlize Theron and Chiwetel Ejiofor. It is a feature film writing debut for Rucka and an action feature debut for director Gina Prince-Bythewood.
While Prince-Bythewood does manage to eke some originality out of the comic-cum-action genre, this film can’t help but fall prey to convention. Ultimately, the plot and character arcs are entirely familiar and anyone who has seen any action movie—literally ever—will be able to tell you exactly how this film is going to play out. Prince-Bythewood is saved from banality, however, by Rucka’s writing—both in the comics and for the screen—and an ever-compelling Charlize Theron.
Theron—aided by Rucka who creates a compelling character in Andromache “Andy” Scythia—breathes some life into the “disillusioned immortal” trope. By now a well-established female action lead with titles such as Aeon Flux, Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde under her belt, Theron was well-cast for this role, bringing the right amount of simmering angst to her character without boiling over into full-fledged drama. While the rest of the cast do a good job—Marwan Kenzari has a stand out moment or two—Kiki Layne shares some of the more delicate moments on screen with Theron and is helplessly out-acted. In Layne’s defense, her character is almost completely uninteresting… no one is going to pay attention to the US Army soldier from 2020 when they’re standing next to a two-thousand-year-old warrior queen from Scythia. No one.
And there are other issues with the structure and narrative in this film that make it a little hard to care.
The film almost goes out of its way to check off progressive “must-haves” such as “inclusion” and “representation” though, in the end, it all amounts to the same thing. Prince-Bythewood gives an inordinate amount of on-screen space to a same-sex relationship that wouldn’t materially change the film or its plot elements if it were a heterosexual relationship. On the one hand, this is a testament to both the progress that has been made in the cultural acceptability of homosexuality and Prince-Bythewood’s absence of prejudice—or empathy as a director—in the treatment of her characters. On the other hand, it produces a shrug-inducing apathy that has you questioning why so much space and time of the film was dedicated to a matter that amounts to a mole hill in the first place. All of this is to say that it is a progressive-minded pothole on the “Inclusion and Representation Highway” that Prince-Bythewood couldn’t swerve to avoid. Fortunately, it didn’t damage her car and the film is neither better nor worse for it.
In the end, it’s a decent enough action film that has set itself up nicely for a sequel… that, with any luck, we’ll be able to watch in a theatre.