‘The Old Guard’ shoots for greatness but fails

The Old Guard
Netflix/Courtesy

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Grade: 3.0/5.0

“The Old Guard,” directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, brings exceptional action scenes to the screen while presenting a unique world and story. Straight from illustrator Leandro Fernandez and writer Greg Rucka’s graphic novel, the Netflix film introduces a new set of warriors with interesting backstories. However, “The Old Guard” makes several rushed narrative decisions, resulting in poorly written characters and a scattered storyline. Rather than using the film’s almost two-hour run time to present dynamic characters, the writing instead focuses on setting up a storyline for a sequel that has yet to be greenlit.

The film’s main plot revolves around four immortal mercenaries utilizing their self-healing, combat and resurrection abilities to help people in need and those who can afford their services. Although their abilities allow them to be fearless, they are not eternal. Each one of them will eventually become mortal again without warning, becoming vulnerable to their enemies once more. While the group has worked in secret for centuries, it is now struggling to maintain its anonymity in the 21st century, as a wealthy CEO, Merrick (Harry Melling), tries to capture it. Meanwhile, a new immortal recruit, Nile (KiKi Layne), is tracked down by Andy (Charlize Theron), the mercenaries’ fearless leader, who wants to help Nile understand her newly discovered abilities. 

The other group members, Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) are lovers who once started as enemies in the Middle Ages, fighting on different sides of the Crusades. As for Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), he has been immortal since the Napoleonic wars and struggles with the grief of outliving his family. Although most characters are hinted to have a detailed backstory, the film’s writing fails to make them dynamic characters. Andy is shown to be frustrated with the world’s worsening deaths and wars despite her efforts to help, so she begins to lose hope throughout the film. When she does regain her hope, however, no remarkable events are shown to support her sudden change of mind. Booker also makes a detrimental decision in the film that feels unlike his character, but the writing fails to provide enough context to make Booker’s decision believable. Instead, the film simply focuses on how his decision leads to future events, creating character inconsistency.

Despite failing to introduce its new set of exciting heroes properly, “The Old Guard” does a great job introducing queer representation in an organic manner. The film introduces Nicky and Joe’s relationship progressively, so it never feels out of place. Both small cues and a detailed explanation of their love allows the buildup to their on-screen kiss to be outstanding. Their relationship feels genuine and not like a last-minute effort to be inclusive.

Furthermore, unlike other action films, “The Old Guard” does not rely on destruction or computer-generated imagery to generate thrilling action. Instead, it takes a more bloody, simple approach to action scenes. The film showcases hand-to-hand combat with swords, handguns and axes, which highlight the actors’ execution of the fight choreography. While the film editing does rely on numerous cuts to generate excitement, the action never feels unnecessary, as the placement of each action scene contributes to the progression of the plot. But perhaps what makes this film’s action scenes remarkable is that its heroes can get wounded despite being immortal. It allows for a more realistic approach to fighting, making one wonder if the characters will continue to resurrect each time they die or if it will be the last time we see them.

Ultimately, “The Old Guard” has much potential with a great take on immortality, inclusivity and action. However, if the writers sought to present a cohesive film, they failed. Rather than developing a well-written stand-alone film with heroes to fall in love with, the film instead shapes the characters’ writing to set up for a sequel. Since “The Old Guard” is expected to reach 72 million households in four weeks, one can hope that if the sequel ever comes, it will dive into the story at hand rather than build up for a post-credits scene.

Contact Brany Barragan at [email protected].