You would think by now that the superhero genre was well and truly saturated. But somewhat unexpectedly, Netflix has managed to inject life into the field with their latest release, The Old Guard.
Adapted from Greg Rucka’s comic of the same name, the film sees Charlize Theron head up a team of immortal mercenaries who have been quietly protecting humanity for centuries. The team is made up of Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), lovers who met while fighting the crusades. Next is Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), a depressed ex-soldier who fought in the Napoleonic wars. Theron plays Andromache, who goes by Andy, the leader and oldest of the group.
After their cover is blown in a set-up orchestrated by CIA agent Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the immortals are forced to go on the run from a nefarious pharmaceutical company, Merrick Inc. The millennial, power-hungry CEO (Harry Melling of Harry Potter fame) is hell-bent on finding the secret to everlasting life and will stop at nothing to discover it.
Meanwhile, the team embark on a search mission, after discovering that a new immortal has joined their ranks. They find Nile (KiKi Layne) a young but determined US marine who discovers she’s immortal after surviving what should have been a fatal attack in the field.
The story sounds predictable – and in some ways it is – but director Gina Prince-Bythewood manages to make it feel fresh with a perfect balance of action and emotion. Although Prince-Bythewood clearly has fun with the sharply stylized and impressive fight sequences, she excels in the smaller character-driven moments. The unlikely mentor-mentee relationship between Andy and Nile is endearing without being saccharine.
Meanwhile, the interactions between the immortals are tinged with an existential dread. They exist with the uncomfortable knowledge that although they are immortal now, one day they will stop healing altogether. Of course, no one knows when. They live in constant tension between life and death and Prince-Blythewood does not shy away from the implications of this.
The screenplay, which is adapted by Rucka himself, might feel a little tired in parts, particularly in the second half, but it is saved by the sharp performances from the refreshingly diverse cast. Theron has already proven her abilities in the action genre with memorable roles in Atomic Blonde, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Fate of The Furious. But she proves it once again here. Her performance as Andy is compelling and formidable. Likewise, KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk), does a decent job as the bewildered new recruit. Layne elevates a character that has the potential to feel somewhat cliché, proving herself an impressive actress to watch.
This film is an impressive fusion of action and fantasy, in a combination that will satiate fans of both genres without alienating fans of the other. Prince-Bythewood retains the strong emotional charge of the story without sacrificing the sheer fun of watching the immortals kick-ass. It’s an exciting and enjoyable film. As long as you can stand a bit of blood, you’ll be hooked by The Old Guard, and luckily, the film leaves plenty of room for a sequel.