Netflixable? “The Old Guard” brings a comic book franchise to Netflix

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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.

1half-star

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

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5 Responses to Netflixable? “The Old Guard” brings a comic book franchise to Netflix

  1. thewrongrogermooredied says:

    Way to miss the forest for the trees. We get it, you don’t like women with short hair, and gay people make you uncomfortable.

    And for some reason you felt that a “getting to know you fight” set to some of the most bland pop, with zero stakes behind it, which leads to an emotional connection which isn’t earned, between two characters who’s immortality renders the fight entirely stake-less, even should the plane crash.

    • Are you a bot? You not only have key-punched a nonsensical complaint into Google translate, which didn’t really work out, did it? You appear to have utterly missed any of the points YOU cite and mischaracterized what I wrote like this was the first movie review you’ve ever read. “Short hair” I praised, “Woke” I mentioned, sans judgement. The movie’s script, direction, stakes, etc? “Meh.”

  2. Sameer says:

    What I find utterly incomprehensible is how this is being lauded and highly reviewed by so many professional critics! What is it – are people just so desperate for any escapist fantasy crap in these dire times, good (or heck, even halfway decent) story be damned?

    The most idiotic thing in a script full of idiocy was Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character – what was his big plan anyway? Presumably since he was working as a CIA operative he had a modicum of intelligence. Yet after studying in detail Andy & co.’s superhuman exploits over the last 150 years or so and actually fanboying ‘cos she’s done so much good (paraphrasing – “she saves X and humanity reaps the reward a generation or two later”), what does he do? Tell her the sob story about his wife and actually ask her if maybe she and the rest might voluntarily want to donate blood and tissue etc. for a study that might possibly benefit ALL of humanity? (After all, she does keep complaining that whatever they’re doing is not enough.) Oh no, because that would be the logical thing to do. No, no, instead he has to double-cross and deliver this woman (whom he seemingly admires so much) and her team right into the hands of an obviously over-the-top psychopathic pharma CEO who has his own frickin’ private army and intends to torture and study them forever. “F-f-f-f-forever?”, mumbles Ejiofor’s character in surprise, which just goes to show that the connection between the CIA and intelligence was clearly a ridiculous assumption on my part.

    If they didn’t want to show him getting bitch-slapped and knocked off for being such a moron, the least they could have done is instead shown him redeeming himself by refusing to back down and accompanying Nile to save the team. If he had gotten himself shot trying to save Andy, it would have at least made his subsequent induction into their team (as data scrubber, booker of future gigs etc.) seem logical, rather than being given the job (for which he’s apparently “honored”) for doing nothing more than selling them out to be tortured for the rest of their lives.

    “Meh” is far too much praise for dreck like this.

    • Well, yeah. We’re all “shut in” at the moment. Some of us feel the need to pander to the fanboys and girls who own the summer, even when “Summer” was canceled.

  3. Sameer says:

    P.S. The grenade incident did make me wonder though – what will happen if these immortals are beheaded or blown into smithereens? Will their separate body parts remain alive individually and knit back together if reunited? Or perhaps each part will ‘heal’ by growing into a copy of the whole, a la Carry On Screaming? Andy’s back to being human, so maybe in the next instalment when all seems doomed Nile chops off bits of herself repeatedly and grows an insta-army to fight the climactic battle against the Big Bad… Great idea for a sequel, eh what?!

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