“THE OLD GUARD” PUTS IMMORTAL TWIST ON SUPERHERO POWERS
A Film Review by Tim Riley
“THE OLD GUARD” (RATED R) ON NETFLIX Now that films with a MPAA rating are being released on television streaming services rather than in traditional theaters, it may be appropriate to note the premise for the ratings. In the case of the superhero action thriller “The Old Guard” streaming on Netflix, the R rating has been designated for the “sequences of graphic violence and language.” Gore and language should also be added into the mix. What kind of superheroes are performing good deeds here? For one thing, they are not characteristic of caped crusaders or enhanced physical specimens of someone, say, like the Hulk that are found in DC Comics or Marvel Cinematic Universe films.
The superheroes in “The Old Guard” are bound to the human experience, with frailties and even mental constraints attendant to regular humans, but they are immortals with regenerative healing faculties. The quartet of centuries-old warriors are led by Andromache of Scythia (Charlize Theron), who favors being called Andy and is a powerful woman of indeterminate age, as she seems unable to recall the century of her birth.
However, Andy has been around long enough that two of her compatriots are Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), a couple that were on the opposite sides of the Crusades before being killed in battle and then falling in love. The relative youngster in the group is Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), who joined around the time of the Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century after fighting on the side of the French Empire.
We first get a look at Andy in Morocco. For all of her ageless qualities and dressed in black and wearing dark glasses, Andy has the look of a very modern woman who might be sipping lattes at an outdoor café and shopping in trendy stores. Andy and her colleagues might more aptly be described as mercenaries for the greater good. And yet any commitment to the cause of fighting evil seems to be wearing on Andy, as she laments that the world is not becoming a better place for their efforts. The angst that grips Andy’s mental well-being is exacerbated by grieving over the loss of her old colleague Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo), whose fate was sealed by being placed in an iron maiden and dropped into the bottom of the ocean during medieval times.
While Andy grappled with her sorrow and despair over global conditions, the quartet had been on hiatus for some time until Andy is asked by former CIA spook James Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to undertake a rescue mission of kidnapped Sudanese schoolgirls.The mission goes badly as the quartet is ambushed in what obviously turned out to be a trap. The resulting bloody carnage, however, does allow us to have an understanding of how the superheroes are rather quickly restored to fighting shape.
Meanwhile, over in Afghanistan, young African-American Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) survives a fatal knife attack from a Taliban soldier with a miraculously speedy recovery that stuns her doctors and causes her to be ostracized by fellow soldiers that don’t understand her sudden immortality.That Nile has the regenerative powers common to the other immortal warriors leads Andy to venture to the Afghan war zone to save Nile just in time before she’s shipped off by superiors presumably for medical experiments.
Though a brave soldier who had been unaware of her immortality, Nile is reluctant, to say the least, to become a recruit with the warriors. Understandably, her major concern is that she would never see her family again if pressed into service. However, there is nothing like a truly noxious villain that would get one to change their mind about a mission. That baddie is Steve Merrick (Harry Melling), the nerdy head of a British pharmaceutical firm who is aware of the immortals and wants to subject them to genetic experiments.
To that end, Merrick’s goons abduct Joe and Nicky, resulting in the warriors being strapped to operating tables under the care of a scientist who may have been inspired by Josef Mengele for evil medical research.Faced with the reality of Merrick’s wickedness, the once reluctant Nile comes to terms with a certain trepidation about her eternal earthly situation, and becomes a force in her own right for the supercharged battle to liberate her colleagues.
Even though the ageless warriors become fully restored after being killed in action, they feel pain when maimed or mortally wounded, which takes its toll on everyone’s psyche. This is becoming especially true for Andy, who’s expressing weariness and frustration.The Old Guard” is a different type of superhero action film in that the warriors may be adept at fighting with all kinds of weapons (Andy favors a medieval axe), but their power is primarily that of not dying and living to fight another day. As one of the producers, Charlize Theron may have in mind developing “The Old Guard” into a franchise outside the orbit of the traditional comic book universe that dominates superhero films.