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On Netflix: THE OLD GUARD (2020)

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THE OLD GUARD
(US - 2020)

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Written by Greg Rucka. Cast: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Van Veronica Ngo, Anamaria Marinca, Joey Ansah, Natacha Karam, Mette Towley, Michael Ward, Shala Nyx. (R, 125 mins)

Based on the comic book by Greg Rucka (Whiteout) and Leandro Fernandez, the Netflix Original film THE OLD GUARD is a high-concept superhero saga, an origin story of sorts that, at the end of the day, feels like a two-hour pilot for a streaming series. Charlize Theron is Andy, the leader of a quartet of mercenaries that includes Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). They're contacted by ex-CIA official Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) for an assignment in South Sudan rescuing a group of young girls who have been abducted. They arrive to pull off the job only to find there are no kidnapped girls and it's a set-up. They're ambushed and all four are mowed down in a hail of machine gun fire. But wait...it takes a minute or two, but the bullets begin to pop out, the wounds begin to close, and they regain consciousness, catching their killers off guard and massacring the whole lot. Yes, there's the hook: they're immortal and they've been there at crucial moments throughout history, often silently saving humankind in the process.






At the same time, US Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne of IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK) is part of a unit in Afghanistan apprehending a wanted insurgent who proceeds to slash her throat. She's presumed dead but by the next day, is fine and there isn't even a scratch on her neck. She's shunned by everyone at the base and she's given transfer orders to be observed at a hospital in Germany. As she's waiting to leave, she's apprehended by Andy who, along with others, sensed her newfound immortality in their dreams. It happens suddenly, without warning, and they've all experienced the process. Booker was the last one, and he joined the team shortly after the War of 1812. Joe and Nicky hail from the Crusades, and Andy, once revered as Andromache of Scythia, is in the ballpark of 6000 years old. There have been others over time, most notably Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo), who formed a bond with Andy as their immortality led to accusations of witchcraft, resulting in Quynh being chained up, locked in an iron maiden and dropped to the bottom of the ocean, where she's remained, alive and trapped, for 500 years. Their superpowers have a limit--they can live centuries upon centuries and their wounds will heal, but they can't escape a situation such as that if captured. Even the immortality has its limits: Andy's wounds and injuries are starting to take longer to heal, and while they may live thousands and thousands of years, they still won't live "forever."






A lot of THE OLD GUARD is dedicated to establishing the rules and the extent of their immortality (Booker: "Just because we keep living doesn't mean we stop hurting"), and to Andy becoming a reluctant mentor to stubborn Nile, who takes a long time to accept her new reality. The villain is Merrick (Harry Melling, best known as Dudley Dursley in the HARRY POTTER films), a dickish, Martin Shkreli-like pharma bro CEO who wants to capture The Old Guard and run tests to crack their genetic code so he can unlock the key to immortality. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (LOVE AND BASKETBALL) keeps things moving at a fast clip, and there's plenty of well-crafted action sequences, but at the same time, its essential story structure doesn't really differ from what's really just a slightly tweaked X-MEN formula at its core. Where THE OLD GUARD does stand out from the crowd is that it's the first comic book movie of its kind to be directed by a black woman, and that Joe and Nicky are a couple, some welcome and refreshingly nonchalant inclusivity that would've caused a shitstorm of outrage even as recently as even a decade ago. Those factors aside, it's pretty standard-issue stuff. Seemingly arbitrary factors keep coming into play, and characters are prone to barking things like "This is what we do!" and "This is who you are now!" Of course, one of The Old Guard will betray the group, though the reasoning and the outcome are different than what you expect. The actors are fine, and Theron is always solid in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and ATOMIC BLONDE action mode. THE OLD GUARD is fine, I guess. It's an enjoyable enough Netflix stream if you're sitting inside with the AC on an oppressively hot day or just avoiding the general public since there's too many dumbshits walking around without masks.

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