Directed by #GinaPrince-Bythewood
Written by #GregRucka
The ever-expanding (and seemingly never-ending) universe of comic-book film has born another entry with Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Old Guard. This time round, the work of former DC writer Greg Rucka gets the big-screen treatment, with the veteran comic creator penning his own screenplay.
A quartet of centuries-old warriors, led by the fearless “Andy” (Charlize Theron), find themselves targets of sinister forces when their apparent immortality is exposed during a staged ambush. Things are complicated further when U.S Marine Nile (KiKi Layne) reluctantly becomes the new recruit of the “Old Guard” after inexplicably escaping death during a raid in Afghanistan. Together, the team face their greatest crisis when a ruthless pharmaceutical executive (Harry Melling) conspires to capture them to exploit the secret of their miraculous life-spans.
The most innovative moment in The Old Guard comes early. Prince-Bythewood opens with a shot of our presumed heroes slaughtered. As expected, we flashback to the main narrative of the film only to, unexpectedly, return to a repeat of the opening shot about 13 minutes in. If you haven’t read the synopsis too closely, it makes for a somewhat jarring moment. We’re more than used to this technique but the rest of the story is still to play out. It’s a neat trick from the director and the play with expectations here works very effectively.
Disappointingly, The Old Guard doesn’t hit the mark quite as well again. An uninspired cast and script puncture the film; even the gung-ho Theron brings little to the project. The rest of the cast lack charisma and Prince-Bythewood mistakenly allows her players to mumble through the film. In a muddled role, Chiwetel Ejiofor is sadly wasted. Ejiofor would have been better as one of the immortals or as the principal villain instead of Harry Melling’s ineffective baddie who unconvincingly goes from company CEO to an irredeemable Lex Luthor wannabe in almost the blink of an eye. Frustratingly, the film’s most potentially intriguing character, and plot development, is instead saved for a potential sequel.
The Old Guard presents some interesting conflicts. Andy and Nile’s different views on God’s existence. The repercussions between the immortals and their loved ones. Also, most originally, the thought of spreading immortality to the human population. However, these are developed no more than just passing thoughts in Rucka’s script. Instead, we get the usual clichés and a mediocre plot. Returning from the grave, Nile is no longer accepted by her old colleagues and no longer welcome in the army, repeating the similar outcasting of Connor McLeod in Highlander (1986). Oddly, not one of Nile’s team at least expresses some measure of awe and joy at a first-hand resurrection or even stop to think of the benefits that an invincible warrior might reap for the Marines. Closing the story, Rucka also disappoints. It isn't until Ejiofor shows Andy and her comrades some of the many lives they've saved that our heroes realise they can make a difference to the world. Suddenly, the premise falls flat - have they really been unaware of the good they've done for centuries and only ever thought about the cons of being immortal? It's a silly, sloppy ending.
The Old Guard has received acclaim for its action sequences though, in fact, action isn’t the focus here. Prince-Bythewood’s film aspires to be a more psychological study of the complications of immortality, only its ideas are half-baked and half-heartedly executed.