The comic book adaptation “The Old Guard” is more interesting for its “changing of the guard” politics than anything it puts on screen.
Netflix made it, wrote a big check for a franchise built around Oscar winner Charlize Theron, with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthiaas Schoenaerts in support. Theron and Netflix put a woman behind the camera, Gina Prince-Bythewood, who hasn’t had the sort of career opportunities a debut like “Love & Basketball” should have given her.
Rising star KiKi Layne (“If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Native Son”) was cast as the heroine-in-training.
There are gay characters, and maybe a gay-curious one. “Woke?” It’s Red Bull woke.
There’s good fight choreography and the sheen of a generally-polished action/espionage/travelogue about it.
But the movie? A great big fat meh — no men or women in tights and capes, but nothing much new in comic book movie terms.
Theron sports a world-weary resignation under her stylishly butch haircut, jet-black forelock flopped over one eye, as “Andie,” “boss” of a four person commando team.
“I’m just so tired of it,” she narrates under the opening image, of her bleeding out on the floor of some terrorist lair in Sudan. Not her first time, in other words.
That’s the gimmick here — immortality. Shoot her and Booker (Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) to pieces, and it’s to no avail. They Chumbawamba their way back into the fray.
Then, they’re betrayed. A bio-med billionaire (Harry Melling, the most “Meh” of all) is after them for reasons which you don’t have to read a comic book to guess.
Can “The Old Guard” fight its way out? Can this newly-discovered recruit, a Marine named Nile (Layne) who didn’t die after getting her throat cut in Afghanistan, save them?
I hunted through the credits to be sure to throw kudos where they’re due. No, not to the director (drab, flat storytelling and shot selection) or to Charlize’s hairdresser, but to fight choreographer Daniel Fernandez, who gets this cast and their stunt doubles into some wonderful brawls.
A “Let’s introduce ourselves” fight between Andy and Nile on an old propeller-driven cargo plane uses the space and the ladies and their fists to great effect. It’s a movie with samurai and broadsword slaughter, because these people have been doing this a VERY long time, remember.
Check out the designer battleaxe Theron’s Andy sports.
But it’s always much easier and less time consuming to dispatch villains with guns, so that’s what they do. It’s also lazier and less interesting, cinematically.
The screenplay, by one of the co-creators of the comic, hits the “Let us now praise the leading lady” lines comic-book hard. Most of them are delivered by Schoenaerts.
“That woman has forgotten more ways to kill than entire armies will ever learn.”
Yeah. She bad.
The sexuality stuff is played up to a degree that flirts with pandering. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But here is the empty space in the middle of movies like this. We know they’re immortal. There are no stakes unless — take a guess, ding ding DING — that’s right, there’s a chance they could LOSE that immortality. And, you know, die.
Granted, take away that supernatural nonsense and what you’re left with is a Netflix action movie starring Chris Hemsworth. Franchise-opener or not, this is as forgettable as that one.
There’s a little backstory, with hints of historical righteousness about it.
“Are you good guys, or bad guys?”
“Depends on the century.”
But the entire affair plays as pro-forma, pre-ordained, pre-digested and pre-dictable.
Rating: R (for sequences of graphic violence, and language)
Cast: Charlize Theron, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthias Schoenaerts, Kiki Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Harry Melling, Luca Marinelli.
Credits: Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, script by Greg Rucka, based on the comic book by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:05