Charlize Theron leads a team of immortal warriors against Big Pharma.
Andy (Charlize Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) are four soldiers who are recruited to rescue a group of kidnapped children in the Sudan by CIA agent Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor). They’re betrayed, but end up surviving because the four are actually a group of ancient warriors with nigh-immortality. At the same time, U.S. Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) is mortally wounded in Afghanistan, but recovers, revealing her to be the next in the line of immortals. She’s soon recruited by the four and they discover that they are being hunted by Steven Merrick (Harry Melling), a billionaire pharmaceutical executive who wants them for his research.
If you’ve never seen Love and Basketball, you absolutely should, because it is a well-crafted story that combines a tight script with a lot of non-verbal storytelling to craft a drama. This movie is basically that, except that instead of telling a romance about athletes, it’s a series of amazing action set pieces combined with some solid character moments that really flesh out what could easily have been one-dimensional characters. The reason why I compare these films is that they both are directed by the incredibly talented Gina Prince-Blythewood, who is now, officially, the first black woman to direct a superhero film (and she’s already set to direct another in the next year or so). Her films, including The Secret Life of Bees or Beyond the Lights, are marked by something that almost seems rare nowadays: Sincerity. She doesn’t mock her subject matter, regardless of what it is, and for a comic book film that can be a game changer.
It’s that same sincerity that really sets the characters apart. Rather than just telling us how each of the characters is haunted by the fact that everyone they know will die, the film gives us a number of flashbacks and memories that reflect upon the pain and loss that they’ve suffered. We’re shown the story of Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo), a former immortal who was trapped in an iron coffin and drowned over and over again for centuries, and that image is burned into the cast as well as the viewers. That’s the kind of stuff that would normally be subverted in a modern comic film, but instead here is played painfully straight. These kind of character moments are peppered throughout and make everyone a little bit deeper and a lot more complex than you would expect from a movie with a team of gun-toting immortals.
Neither the story of this film nor the characters themselves are particularly original. The concept of a super-regenerating or nearly unkillable action hero has been done from Wolverine to Painkiller Jane. However, The Old Guard is one of the first movies where the choreography actually reflects that these people know they can take a beating, but they still feel pain. You see them willing to use their immortality to throw people off guard, since most people would evade things like “getting shot in the heart,” but they still only do it sparingly. As a reflection of their age, they also are all experts with melee weapons that are indigenous to their origins, including Andy, who wields a battleaxe, which is basically the most kickass of backup weapons. Unfortunately, I kept waiting for someone to say “let me axe you a question,” because that seemed like a thing that would eventually happen. I was happy that such a pun did not, in fact, occur.
Overall, honestly, this is just a great movie.
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