The Old Guard Review

The old Guard
Review of: The Old Guard
Matt Donato

Reviewed by:
On July 9, 2020
Last modified:July 9, 2020


The Old Guard proves that aged dogs can learn plenty of new tricks, and could be Netflix's go-to action franchise if sequels are as good as this beginning.

Action franchise starters that never started an actual franchise; a conversation I pray The Old Guard never enters. Wanted. The Losers. Gina Prince-Bythewood’s Netflix adaptation of Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez’s immortal warriors comic series deserves better than those one-and-done titles. Battle choreography is energetic, and the hero complex as we know it gets upended with an “unkillable” narrative foil. There’s also essential character work that pushes against every toxic subgenre preconception – or maybe I selfishly want more “Charlize Theron with a battle-axe” content. She’s the mascot 2020 needs, deserves, and should support.

Theron stars as Andromache of Scythia, aka “Andy,” the leader of an elite squadron of soldiers who (mostly) cannot die. There’s Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), along with lovers Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). Their powers are of unknown origin, but the rules are simple: you can’t die, no matter how many wounds sustained, until it’s your time. Their exploits span inquisitions to crusades, medieval warfare to witch trials, leading them to a modern world now run by pharmaceutical advancement. Companies like Merrick, owned by the insidious CEO of the same name (played by Harry Melling), wish to capture Andy’s crew for research purposes.

It’s an ongoing stalk-and-capture chase that ponders the torments of immortality against any mortal’s wishes to live forever. Andy and Booker commiserate over watching their loved ones perish while they stayed the same age upon their first “death,” when they immediately reanimated without scratches. Enter U.S. Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne), as the crew’s gobsmacked first-timer who juxtaposes those nonchalant personalities around her. Andy slugs from contraband vodka bottles while Nile exudes empathy and questions her gifts. A back-and-forth that both actresses sustain rather effectively.

KiKi Layne’s performance has to contemplate her character’s near-eternal superpower while being hunted by a mega-corporation’s mercenary brutes. It’s the “old” versus “new” injection of fresh blood that makes Andy rethink her ways, her dismissal of humanity, to use “The Old Guard” for immediate good. Not that they were ever villains, but more assassins guided by whichever cause seemed best at the time. Niles unlocks vulnerability within the team, which Prince-Bythewood uses to her advantage when showing these “unstoppable” characters with still-human flaws.

It’s all very expected in some ways, given what I’ve already outlined – yet The Old Guard finds freshness in execution. Prince-Bythewood’s eye for fight sequences moodily tinkers with slow-motion fluidity set to smooth R&B-influenced tracks by artists like M.I.A. and others. Instead of the crunchy exploitation-rock that’d usually amplify “coolness,” these sequences convey the pain behind Andy’s eyes. Never overtly dreary and more methodical in depicting sword swipes and headshots as a moving symphony.

It’s not like tonal bleakness sacrifices excitement in any way. Everyone in the primary cast shines as tactical masters at some point (savage neck-breaker finishers included), and Theron herself stands out as she glides through violent sprees with agile grace that reminds of Jonh Wick’s “Gun-Fu.” Compared to something like Extraction, The Old Guard is more graceful, gaze-worthy, and stylistically slick. Still packing multiple punches (and kicks and smackdowns), but with more thought put into the motivations behind each discarded henchman.

Do remember, this is a fingers-crossed setup to future installments. There are moments where it’s obvious the script is thinking ahead instead of “now,” or plays up quick betrayal arcs to fuel conflict (Chiwetel Ejiofor as eye-in-the-sky Copley, early on). I’m not going to say The Old Guard doesn’t get bogged down by brief tastes of franchise-first filmmaking, but I’m more forgiving in the ways presented.

The ample time invested in the romantic relationship between Joe and Nicky is a spotlighted accomplishment in a genre where such entanglement rarely allows representation. Marwan Kenzari’s impromptu monologue about his undying connection to Luca Marinelli’s Nicky, after being mocked by a security guard questioning if he’s his “boyfriend,” is a furious chef’s kiss response to senseless hate speech. It’s not pandering to any single demographic and challenges the way we box bullet-heavy narratives with outdated tropes. These are the moments that shine brightest and distract from more structured world-building, along with the “I’m too old for this shit” vibe that sometimes becomes too familiar.

The old Guard

The Old Guard has everything you could want from a Netflix actioner. Combat situations get your adrenaline pumping, and it’s rather quick to the draw. Gina Prince-Bythewood establishes a world worth investment thanks to characters who develop farther than just another team of renegade badasses. The better news? It vocalizes even more value.

As mentioned, little hints are a love-letter to new ideas within an otherwise outdated genre. The dynamic between KiKi Layne and Charlize Theron lets these ladies command the film’s tone from meet-up awkwardness to team-up camaraderie. Plus, we get the added benefit of period-based warfare montages whenever these timeless killers recall past realities. Here’s to The Old Guard, and to further adventures in what hopefully will be a successful Netflix property with a lot more ass-kicking ahead.

The Old Guard

The Old Guard proves that aged dogs can learn plenty of new tricks, and could be Netflix's go-to action franchise if sequels are as good as this beginning.