We’ve said it before and we will say it again: Netflix is taking over the world. 2020 has been such a strange year anyhow but even before pandemics and the like, the streaming service has been making an endless stream of new and original content that is reaching even the most remote of locations across the globe. The marketplace for films and releases is slowly changing and with the bit between their teeth, they have struck gold (mostly) with some of their originals. Their latest is The Old Guard, venturing into the world of graphic novels for this adaptation of Greg Rucka (who writes here) and Leandro Fernandez’s acclaimed series. Insert “old” joke here.
Theron leads the ensemble as Andy, the leader of a covert mercenaries unit which is among the biggest secret organisations going because of their ruthless yet effective approach to taking down bad guys. Also, they are immortal, which helps. Centuries-old, they have lived in secret to protect their identities and have managed to stay that way through countless oppression’s, dictatorships, wars, and more but the world in 2020 (pre-lockdowns and the rest) is a harder place for them to navigate. Everyone is watching, with satellites, mobile phones, and social media becoming even trickier for them to avoid and just as they think they are safe, another threat rears its ugly head in the form of pharmaceuticals giant Merrick but after so long, it seems they may not be the only ones remaining.
What’s true right from the off with The Old Guard is just how muscular it is all going to be: from the opening prologue that shows us the team’s unique gifts and strengths, this is going to be a bruising, physical and topsy-turvy affair that takes its cinematic cue from John Wick and Jason Bourne, which is not a bad level to aspire to. And, indeed, the action set-pieces are pretty astounding throughout the film with the attention to detail precise and the shaky, hand-held cinematography and director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s unique eye – always refreshing in such big, lavish worlds such as this – only adding the vigorous nature of it all, amplified even more by seeing Theron and co doing as much of the stunt work as they possibly can without getting hurt.
Those are the set pieces of this ilk that we love to see, a riskier but ultimately richer and more rewarding experience, so it’s a shame to report that outside of the hustle and bustle, there isn’t much to write home about. Relationships, though echoing through centuries and generations, never feel as immersive and are actually the opposite, inert, and stale throughout despite some decent camaraderie between the group. Separately, Theron excels as ever with Kiki Layne, fresh from her star-making turn in Barry Jenkins’ magnificent If Beale Street Could Talk, also reveling in something a little different; but Chiwetel Ejiofor is wasted and what film doesn’t need more Matthias Schoenaerts? This one, sadly.
For those who love their comic-book adaptations or superhero shenanigans, The Old Guard ranks somewhere in the lower echelons but nowhere near the misguided Aeon Flux (which also starred Theron) which, when all is said and done, is hugely disappointing. There are flashes of brilliance in here that are well worth seeking out but its cumbersome, dull moments outside of the action make it a bit of chore and, well, old and tired