As far as Netflix is concerned, 2020 has really been a banner year for the streaming service. Unlike most film studios and TV networks, the Netflix vault is proving to be bottomless, with new big-budget content out almost every week.
This helps subside the lack of fresh material at the Box Office, but as the streamer’s latest film The Old Guard proves, all of that doesn’t necessarily mean the end result is something that will stand out.
The Old Guard based on comics by renowned writer Greg Rucka and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood is fairly run of the mill, despite the film’s best efforts to appear as anything but. If an ensemble film about immortal soldiers starring Charlize Theron in the leading role sounds useful to you in any way, then you should probably check out Netflix’s The Old Guard.
A solid action film with clunky dialogue and an unimaginative screenplay, The Old Guard, falls firmly into B movie territory even with some enjoyable fight scenes. While there is nothing remarkable about the movie itself, perhaps what The Old Guard truly accomplishes is in once again affirming that Charlize Theron is the best action hero Hollywood has at the moment.
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Sure Keanu Reeves’ work in John Wick is brilliant, and Tom Cruise’s death-defying stunts make watching his movies so much more exhilarating. But it is Theron who has in recent years crafted a path for her that distinguishes her from most working Hollywood actors.
Without the help of any big studio or recognition through an established popular IP, Theron has dabbled in everything from indies to romcoms to dramatic features and action movies.
She’s that rare actress who can star in ludicrous films like the Fast and Furious while receiving Oscar nominations for exciting work like the Fox News-Roger Ailes expose Bombshell. Fans of action films would know that some of her most significant contributions to cinema are through George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road and David Leitch’s spy thriller Atomic Blonde.
Both demonstrated Theron’s propensity for action films, and The Old Guard blissfully continues that with Theron one-upping her co-stars at every turn. Despite the movie very much being an ensemble effort, and benefiting from it, Theron is the beating heart of the film skillfully balancing her character’s strong, stoic nature with a more heartfelt take.
As Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel or many Bollywood leading men could attest, playing roles in action movies with a “strong” lead is very often a pitfall if the actor in question cannot add some personality, vulnerability or flair to their role. In The Old Guard, Theron can sidestep just that, adding more depth through her handling of the character than anything in the actual material.
Other cast members are also excellent additions, in particular Kiki Layne who has all the makings of a star herself. She is a fine screen partner for the more seasoned actors in the film and able to hold her own when she is in the spotlight.
Other relative newcomers Luca Marinelli (Trust) and Marwan Kenzari (Aladdin) aren’t quite as good, though Kenzari’s performance in this film is far more seasoned since his last outing in Disney’s Aladdin. Matthias Schoenaerts (Red Sparrow) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Doctor Strange) are as always dependable supporting actors.
For better or worse, The Old Guard is in all aspects the first part of an overarching story. Even before the final scene all but confirms it, the movie often feels like a weak start to what could possibly be an exciting story. The biggest disappointment in the film is how it chooses to use its colourful set of characters at the moment in time that is so utterly mundane.
Flashbacks to the team’s adventures in different periods hint at the potential the franchise has and it is aggravating that the writers saw fit to introduce these characters to us in such a poor manner. Even the villain, Harry Potter’s Harry Melling lacks any real bite, despite his character’s motivations being sensible enough to make you question the main characters’ own moral compass.
While there is enough substance in The Old Guard, to warrant a follow-up, the franchise needs to be more sure of itself and rely on stronger storytelling than just gimmicks and twists, to indeed be something timeless.