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The Good and Bad of The Old Guard

July 20, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
THE OLD GUARD Charlize Therone

The Good and Bad of The Old Guard

The Old Guard is the new, big hooha action flick that debuted July 10th, 2020 on the Netflix streaming service to, in general, critical and audience acclaim. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Greg Rucka (and based on Rucka’s comic book of the same name), the movie stars Charlize Theron as Andy, the leader of a group of immortal mercenaries that seem to roam the world, fighting bad guys and whatnot. After being betrayed by a client, Andy’s team tries to figure out why they were betrayed while also bringing a new warrior into the fold, a U.S. Marine in Afghanistan (Nile, as played by Kiki Layne).

For the most part, The Old Guard is good. It isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible, either. It’s a movie that I watched over three nights, a chunk at a time (it was like 40 minutes the first night, about 40 minutes the second night, and then the rest the third night. I’m not really sure why I watched it this way but I did. I also watched Dolemite is my Name in the same way, at least the first time). I’ll probably watch The Old Guard again, but I’m not sure when (I will watch it one sitting the next time, or at least make an effort to).

Instead of doing a “traditional” review, I’ve decided to do a “The Good and the Bad” type of review for the movie, sort of like the reviews I did for Terminator: Dark Fate and Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. I will list what I thought was “Good” about The Old Guard, and then what was “Bad.” There will be spoilers in this review. You have been warned.

And so, without any further what have you, what’s good and what’s bad about The Old Guard?

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The Good

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Charlize Theron: Theron has been on a bit of roll in the action movie world the last five years, kicking ass in Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, and now in The Old Guard. Theron’s The Old Guard leader character Andy is a badass, world weary, and incredibly lethal warrior that doesn’t have a problem going head on at her enemies. Of course, a lot of that lethality comes from Andy’s inability to die. She, like the other members of the team, can be shot and stabbed repeatedly and “beaten to death,” but she will not die. It may look like she’s dead, but the reality is her, for the lack of a better phrase, “healing factor” will eventually kick in, seal up and fix her wounds, and then she will get up and fucking kill you. And since you are likely not a member of The Old Guard, you will be dead. For real. Theron shows throughout the movie’s action scenes that, whether it’s hand-to-hand, with a gun, or with that circle axe thing that Andy carries around, she has the chops to be an action star. And that’s a very cool thing, it really is.

Kiki Layne: Kiki Layne’s Nile character is a character that we’ve seen in plenty of action movies before: the new member of the team that really doesn’t know what the hell is going on but has to figure it all out through the course of the movie while also dealing with an imminent threat (you know, the movie’s bad guy). Layne’s performance is likely going to be judged on how much the audience likes her and how much the audience sympathizes with her plight. I think the audience is going to love Layne’s Nile and sympathize with her situation because it’s incredibly messed up. She finds out, one day, totally out of the blue, after fucking dying from a deep neck wound given to her by a terrorist in Afghanistan, that she’s not actually dead. She’s somehow immortal now. She can’t die. How the hell did that happen? Why is it happening? How is she going to tell her family and friends? And what is the deal with this Andy woman showing up and basically kidnaping her and telling her all of this “you’re immortal and you have to come with me” shit? You’re totally with Layne throughout the movie. Totally. Layne also does a fine job with the action sequences she’s called on to do (is this Layne’s first action role? I haven’t seen Captive State, the sci-fi movie she was a part of in 2019, so I have no idea if she did anything action movie related in that, but she shows in The Old Guard that she can do it if the role requires it). If and when there’s a sequel it will be interesting to see where the Nile character goes next. Will she try to contact her family?
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The action sequences: The Old Guard features some terrific action sequences. The first major action sequence shows you just how deadly the members of The Old Guard are. They’re all proficient with guns, knives, weird blade weapons, and in hand-to-hand techniques. The big fight on the airplane between Andy and Nile is definitely a movie highlight. The church sequence is another top notch sequence where we see just how dangerous Andy is (how many bad guys does she take out? Twenty?). And the movie’s final action sequence, what amounts to an extended siege on the HQ of the villain, is a good mix of every action beat the movie does right. The gun battle sequences are of the close quarters/guy gets shot in the head and his body drops to the ground variety, which is fine (you can probably thank the John Wick movies for that. Will the “guy gets shot and then his body flies through the air” style ever come back in a major way?). I would have liked to see a little more of the “Andy on horseback fighting with swords and whatnot” flashback stuff, but perhaps that will show up in the eventual sequel. Very exciting stuff.

Joe and Nicky: As played by Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli, Joe and Nicky are members of Andy’s The Old Guard team, total badasses, and lovers. It’s rare to see major gay characters in action movies or action TV, so kudos to The Old Guard, director Prince-Bythewood, and writer/creator Greg Rucka for doing it and just doing it. The movie addresses Joe and Nicky’s relationship, spends a little time on it, doesn’t shy away from showing them in intimate situations, but at the same time doesn’t make a big deal out of it. It’s just who Joe and Nicky are. And from what I’ve seen online it doesn’t seem to have generated much controversy from the homophobic crowd, at least at the moment, so will more action movies have gay characters in the future, not to mention trans characters, etc.? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I don’t really see why it would be a big deal. Why wouldn’t there be badass trans women kung fu masters and shit in the world?

The “character jumping out of a building while holding a guy and we see them hit a car on the street” sequence: We’ve seen plenty of bad guys get thrown out of windows in tall buildings and then land on cars in movies, but how many times have we see the entire fall and the aftermath in the same sequence? Usually the movie cuts to something else before the bad guy hits the car or ground or whatever, but The Old Guard shows us the entire fall, from the leap out the window all the way down to the top of the car. And, yes, it’s all done with CGI, but the CGI, at least in this sequence, looks fabulous, and the aftermath is cringe inducing (look at Nile’s fucking hand! Jesus Christ!). I wonder what future movie will try to top this sequence?

Movie isn’t afraid to be gory: I always applaud any genre movie that decides to get gory in its action sequences, and The Old Guard doesn’t skimp on the nasty stuff. Could the movie have used more blood and gore? Yes, but the stuff that we do get is damn good stuff (I would have liked to see grosser bullet hits and a few exploding heads, but that’s probably just me). And the “immortal bodies repairing their injuries” sequences are very cool, especially when you get to see the wounds fix themselves in “real time.” If you’re going to be an “R” rated/unrated action movie, you might as well let the blood fly.

The presence of Chiwetel Ejiofor: He doesn’t get to do all that much in The Old Guard as Copley, the former CIA agent that gives the team a job and then betrays them, but the mere fact that Ejiofor is in the movie is good enough. The guy always classes up whatever he’s in simply by being in it. Hopefully he’ll get to do more in the eventual sequel, perhaps get a chance to break out some of those badass CIA skills that Copley no doubt has. He’s not immortal like The Old Guard, but since he’s going to essentially be the team’s keeper in part 2, why not allow him to shoot a guy with a shotgun or do some martial arts stuff? Ejiofor was in Redbelt.

The Bad

We don’t know the rules: Okay, so, the members of The Old Guard can’t die. They can be shot up, stabbed, thrown off buildings, thrown in the ocean in an iron maiden, and they will somehow live through all of that. How? And why? The characters claim they don’t know why they’re unable to die and it doesn’t sound like any of them have bothered to make an effort to find out. The only thing we really know is that, eventually, the ability to not die leaves them, but they don’t know when that will be. It just happens.

I’m sorry, but what kind of bullshit is that? How do they not know anything about their abilities? No one has written anything down over the centuries? No one on the team has asked a scientist or doctor or whatever to examine them to figure it out? These people have been around for centuries. Andy has been around for potentially thousands of years. In all of that time no one has told them what the deal is and no one on the team has looked into it? That’s fucking stupid.

And on top of that, what are the rules for immortality when they have it? What if one of The Old Guard gets hits with an RPG and explodes into a million pieces? Do those pieces all sort of come together and reform themselves, like the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day? Do all of the bits and pieces reform into, like, multiple clones of the guy that got blown up? If a team member gets flattened by a giant rock or something how long does it take to be normal again? And why do they eat and drink? Does it matter if they don’t eat for a few days? A few months? A few years? Shouldn’t someone know about this shit so they can give that information to any new members? Of course they should.

And how is The Old Guard operation funded? How does the team deal with the various governments and whatnot they clearly have to deal with, either officially or unofficially, in order to do what they do? Who are their contacts in those governments? And am I really meant to believe that Copley is the only one that has bothered to try to piece together who these fucking people are? That doesn’t sound plausible at all.

And, shit, why does The Old Guard do what it does? Why would immortal beings try to fix the world and make things better? Why would they give a shit about “regular” humanity?

The members of The Old Guard should know all of this, should be able to explain all of it, and the audience should know the rules as soon as the audience is made aware that The Old Guard is immortal. None of this should be a major mystery. I mean, if the team had only been around for like 200 years, fine, they’re still trying to figure it all out themselves, but if the team has been around for centuries they should know more. It’s just ludicrous that they don’t.

And what is the deal with Andy no longer being immortal? What, exactly, does that mean? Is it simply that her healing factor is gone and if she gets shot in the head again she will be fully dead, or are there other aspects to this “lack of immortality” that we haven’t been told about? Will Andy start to age rapidly now? If the healing factor disappears can it come back? How do these people not know any of this shit?

THE OLD GUARD (2020)

Charlize Theron: Now, when Theron’s Andy is kicking ass and taking names she’s awesome and interesting. When she isn’t kicking ass, Andy isn’t as interesting. She’s just a sad, boring character that’s a chore to be around. Is that by design? Is this what Theron wants to do with Andy? Andy has the ability to express herself and she has a personality because we see it in the flashback sequence with Van Veronica Ngo’s Quynh, and she has some chemistry with fellow The Old Guard member Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), but those are fleeting moments. Even if Andy is bored and frustrated with her life and the world, etc., it’s difficult to believe that she’s such a goddamn sad sack even around her team. This is the same kind of bullshit that made her Atomic Blonde character Lorraine Broughton so excruciating.

Look, Theron is a tremendous actor (she wouldn’t have won an Oscar if she wasn’t), but she isn’t bigger than life. She isn’t Ahnold or Stallone or Cynthia Rothrock or Gina Carano. When Theron tries to do the sullen, brooding loner thing it’s just annoying, especially when she’s the goddamn hero of the movie. She has to somehow develop a better balance between showing off her personality and being a ruthless killer in these kinds of movies.

The story makes no sense: This goes back to not knowing the rules of the world, but how exactly would The Old Guard be contacted by anyone in the first place to do anything? And if it’s such a big deal that the team has been betrayed by Copley, shouldn’t they be more worried about that? And since the team hasn’t had a new member in a long time, shouldn’t the mere existence of Nile be a big fucking deal for the team? These are just two things that happen in the movie. That’s insane.

And what, exactly, does the bad guy, Merrick (Harry Melling) want to do? He wants to discover the secret to immortality so he can then sell it? Is it more of a “these people can heal themselves and if I can figure out how I can sell that!” kind of thing? Why would this dipshit be the first one to do that?

The script needed a few more run-throughs to figure this shit out. As it exists, like way to much of The Old Guard, is muddled.

The villain sucks: Harry Melling’s Merrick is one of the lamest and least imposing villains in recent action movie history. Even as a megalomaniac he’s lame as fuck. And, like I said earlier, what, exactly, does he want to do with The Old Guard? And on top of that, shouldn’t he be more resourceful than he is in the movie? Shouldn’t a smart and ruthless businessman have multiple contingency plans in place? Shouldn’t he have traps and whatnot set for The Old Guard? Shouldn’t he be able to outsmart them? That’s how he’s managed to succeed in life, right? His brain? I don’t sense any of that kind of thing in Merrick. None. So why should anyone be scared of him?

The opening scene: The movie shouldn’t have opened with The Old Guard dead on the ground with Andy’s voice over. I know that movies nowadays want to start with a bang/shocking moment to get the story moving, but what was wrong with doing the Andy voiceover while Andy walks alone to her big meeting with Copley? It really isn’t important to see The Old Guard shot up but not dead at the very beginning of the movie. That big moment could have been saved for when it actually happens in the story. It also would have helped ad a bit of mystery and wow factor to that big moment when The Old Guard repairs itself, rises up, and kicks ass. Going that route would have set a better tone for the rest of the movie.

It’s too long: Why is this movie over two hours long? Does it really need to be 125 minutes? I don’t think it does. Even with the ensemble cast and the big action sequences, there’s no reason this movie couldn’t have been around 100 minutes. And if you’re not going to make an effort to explain the rules, why does the movie need to be longer than 100 minutes?

Conclusion

THE OLD GUARD (2020)

The Old Guard is a good action movie that wants to be pretty good, and has the tools to be pretty good. Perhaps that is something the eventual sequel can strive for. And I’m guessing that there will be a The Old Guard 2, both with the positive audience response so far received and with the way the movie ends, with the long thought gone Quynh back and, I guess, wanting revenge against Andy for abandoning her and not looking for her after she was thrown into the ocean inside that iron maiden. And with Andy apparently no longer fully immortal, will the team fight to protect her from Quynh’s violence or whatever? If and when this sequel happens I’ll definitely check it out. I’m curious enough to want to see what happens next.

And I hope that Gina Prince-Bythewood gets a chance to do the sequel, or if she doesn’t for whatever reason, she makes another action movie, perhaps one that’s a little more straightforward/straight up. She obviously has a knack for doing action, so let’s see what else she can do within the genre. And if she does get a chance to do The Old Guard 2, hopefully Netflix gives her a little more money so she can try to top that “character jumping out of a building while holding a guy and we see them hit a car on the street” sequence.

Despite the issues I have with The Old Guard, it’s worth checking out. Bring on The Old Guard 2!

Rating: 7.0/10.0

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The Old Guard, Bryan Kristopowitz