Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard follows the journey of a group of mercenaries, who are all immortals, when they find themselves being targeted by a greedy pharma company.
Charlize Theron and guns are a match made in heaven. Her portrayal of Imperator Furiosa in George Miller’s Mad Max : Fury Road is one for the ages. And then, there’s Atomic Blonde. Now, she’s the head of a group of immortals in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Old Guard, which is based on a comic book of the same name written by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández. It’s an action fantasy which seamlessly blends mythology and science-fiction, but also takes quite an unusual approach to tell its story. The group of mercenaries, led by Charlize Theron’s Andy, are, perhaps, tired of being immortals, but they don’t see if they can do anything else in their lives.
In the opening sequence of the film, Andy thinks aloud and wonders if it’s ever going to end. We get the answer moments later when she and her group members are gunned down to death, but much to our shock, their bodies heal themselves. They are a group of immortals and Andy is the oldest of them all, and she herself can’t remember for how long she has been around. And so, we follow the journey of this group – Andromache (“Andy”) of Scythia, Booker, Joe, and Nicky – as they realise that a former CIA operative Copley has misled them on a mission in Sudan. As they begin their search for Copley, the group is shocked when they dream of another immortal like them. Andy tells the group that the immortal that they had all dreamt of is an American Marine, Nile Freeman, who is serving in Afghanistan. The rest of the story is about how Nile comes to terms with who she is, and how the rest of the group faces a big crisis when a greedy pharma company sets their eyes on the group.
The Old Guard is a superhero film but it doesn’t feel like one. It’s mostly to do with whether they consider their immortality as a power or a curse. The group often talks about the crippling loneliness of their existence, and how they find it extremely hard to live with the knowledge that everyone that they loved and cared for is going to die before them. There’s way too much pain and burden in Andy’s heart, and she’s tormented by her memories of her former comrade Quynh, who was captured, tortured, and put in a metal cage that’s later thrown in the sea. The group has one advice for Nile – Never get captured. That’s what they fear more than death.
This aspect of the film is utterly fascinating and it explores the making of a superhero from a very different perspective. The philosophical undercurrent cuts across the narrative where the characters think about love, loss, pain, existence, family, and time. Nile, the youngest member of the team, is confused in the beginning; however, the more she understands the journey of Andy, the more comfortable she gets about her newfound secret.
But then, The Old Guard, like its narrative, straddles between two frequencies. On one hand, it has all the tropes of a superhero film, where a young member discovers their untapped potential, and a mentor helps them fulfil what the protege is meant to do. There’s also an element of purpose which the mentor and the protege often talk about. It’s almost like ‘The Matrix’ where Nile resembles Neo and Andy is Morpheus. The pharma company has the trappings of Agent Smith, who wants to find the key to become even more powerful by tapping into Morpheus’ secrets. It’s all right there. But The Old Guard is not The Matrix. In fact, a lot of it feels painfully boring while watching the characters talk about what they are going through. A lot of times, nothing really interesting happens even when they keep talking about interesting things about their own lives.
To draw an analogy, The Old Guard feels heavy like the double sided axe, which is a sort of Labrys that Andy wields. She carries it wherever she goes, but uses it only as a last resort to strike a lethal blow into the torsos of mortals. Even the gun-fights in the film are shot without any major stylish choreography. In a way, it’s also interesting because The Old Guard stands out how it treats violence and the burden of being a superhero/immortal compared to those in the DC/Marvel universe. For a change, it was a pleasant surprise to see a superhero who is tired and wants to quit. Only problem is, neither Andy nor anyone else in her group knows how to. They just keep moving from one place to another, one job to another, trying to find a purpose and make sense of the life and times they are living in.
There’s so much potential energy in The Old Guard. However, it doesn’t convert into kinetic energy as much as you would expect it to. It places an old soul in a new world and time takes a toll on them slowly. But hey, the existence of a film like this is why we must continue to stan Charlize Theron, who keeps giving us more reasons to keep rooting for her.
The Old Guard is currently streaming on Netflix. The film is inspired from a comic book series.