THE OLD GUARD poster | ©2020 Netflix

THE OLD GUARD poster | ©2020 Netflix

Rating: R
Stars: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Martinelli, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harry Melling, Van Veronica Ngo
Writer: Greg Rucka, based on the graphic novels by Greg Rucka, illustrated by Leandro Fernandez
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Distributor: Netflix
Release Date: July 10, 2020

THE OLD GUARD is about a group of Immortals. Mythology about immortality has been around for as long as humans have been telling stories. There’s no automatic reason to think that one new variation has ties to a specific older variation.

Well, unless in the new variation, the Immortals all have swords, can sense each other, and even wind up in Paris. At this point, anybody who has spent time with HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES is going to detect what can be called a whiff of homage.

This isn’t the only material that THE OLD GUARD references. Charlize Theron should be able to play as many short-haired, tough women driving funky vehicles through trackless deserts as her heart desires – she’s great at it, and compelling to watch – but it does inevitably bring up memories of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD.

Then again, there could be worse precedents. Theron’s character Andromache, Andy for short, is the oldest of her small band of fellow long-lived warriors, who include the melancholy Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), and devoted to each other lovers Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Martinelli).

Despite feeling that the good they do is never enough, Andy allows herself to be smooth-talked by ex-CIA agent Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) into a rescue operation that turns out to be a trap designed to reveal the Immortals’ existence to profit-hungry pharmaceutical exec Merrick (Harry Melling).

At the same time, young U.S. Marine Nile (KiKi Layne) survives what should have been a fatal stabbing and begins dreaming about Andy et al, as they dream of her. Andy feels obliged to mentor the fledging Immortal, even though Nile objects.

Greg Rucka’s screenplay, based on his graphic novels, gives major heroic roles to women, gay men, and/or people of color, which in itself is refreshing. The action staged by director Gina Prince-Bythewood is plentiful and energetic.

There’s also nothing wrong with riffing on a durable notion. Why not play with some new characters and make the supernatural rules fit the story being told? There’s nothing in THE OLD GUARD that feels like we’re being asked to buy into anything more implausible than yarns we’ve invested in before.

On the other hand, THE OLD GUARD perhaps inevitably feels like a pilot. We get exposition designed to cover not only what the surviving characters do here, but what they’ll likely do later on. There’s a moment where it looks like the plot may swerve and actually make a deep philosophical dive into the premise. Then the moment passes, and the movie becomes standard-issue martial arts and gunplay, like an episode of a genre series with an uncommonly large amount of budget at its disposal. It’s fine, but it’s not as distinctive as we might hope.

There’s a lot of dialogue about destiny here, which puts us in mind of Theron. She’s versatile and has demonstrated that she can do pretty much anything, but if anyone was born to play someone like Andy, it’s her. Ejiofor is soulful, Layne is tough and likable. They’re all good reasons to watch the movie. THE OLD GUARD is agreeable and diverse, it just feels a little, well, old.

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