THE OLD GUARD (2020)

Charlize Theron and Kiki Layne in a still from The Old Guard (2020)
  • Release Date: 10/07/2020
  • Cast: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Luca Marinelli, Marwan Kenzari, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harry Melling
  • Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Charlize Theron’s stellar act and some ravishing action makes “The Old Guard”  entertaining and effective

The Old Guard is a group of independent assassins/warriors who choose their own assignments. They are four, namely Andy (Charlize Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Nicky (Luca Marinelli), and Joe (Marwan Kenzari). They have been living in hiding and choosing their fights for centuries. Andy was the first of them and she has assembled the others. Going by what we learn, Andy has been losing faith in what they have been doing for ages and has taken a sabbatical from her usual routine. She is brought out of her vacation by Booker when he is contacted by an ex-CIA operative Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to take an assignment to help save a group of kidnapped kids.

Andy takes up the job but realizes that it was a set-up to fish them out into the open. Copley hands over their information to a medical conglomerate and its CEO who then goes all guns blazing against the four to capture them, extract their DNA, and unlock the source of their superhuman healing abilities. His idea is to develop a magical medicine and earn truckloads of cash along with a Nobel prize. About the same time, Andy learns of the existence of a new immortal, Nile (KiKi Layne) who desperately needs their help to not only understand how she survived a deadly injury without a  scratch but also from being handed over to the medical conglomerate by the Marines for further tests, dissection, and mutilation. The rest of the film is about what happens to Andy and her team when they come face to face against their biggest nemesis and how they train and inspire their newest recruit to be a part of them and live centuries in anonymity.

One of the most difficult challenges for a film, that renders its protagonist immortal, to do is to sustain tension. When you are making an action-packed adventure, the lack of tension in the screenplay can mean disaster. The biggest source of tension is when the audiences connect with the protagonist and then senses that the existence of that protagonist is threatened by the antagonist. In The Old Guard, we learn very early that our group of heroes are immortal but as the story progresses, the writers and the director effectively work out chinks in their impenetrable armors that only renders them vulnerable but also adds to the audience’s shock of watching these seemingly godlike creatures being disarmed by mere mortals with guns and injections. By doing so, the makers not only ensure that there is enough tension in the narrative but also add a sense of discomfort for the viewers siding with the heroes even as they bludgeon their way through hordes of men leaving behind a piling body count.

Charlize Theron and Kiki Layne in a still from The Old Guard (2020)

Charlize Theron as Andy is easily the best thing about this film. After Kate Winslet, she is my next favorite Hollywood actress for her versatility and dedication to the characters that she plays. It hasn’t been long since we saw her portray the Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly better than Megyn Kelly in Bombshell and here, we are watching her carry out some of the most outrageous and yet fluidly choreographed action sequences with clinical ease and diva-like poise. The contrast between the two characters is baffling and yet she is equally proficient in both. Going by her mannerisms and physicality, we can easily take her to be someone who has been killing for centuries. One can find videos on how she trained for the role on YouTube and it just goes on to show the kind of effort and dedication that she put in for the character. That effort pays off ten folds in the action sequences where she looks absolutely in how she sways through an ever-increasing body count. Her physicality adds a lot of credibility to the action, rendering the sequences a lot more believable and engulfing the viewers in the proceedings making their suspension of disbelief a lot easier and more warranted.

Theron also adds a lot of weight to the dramatic moments of the film that she shares with KiKi Layne’s Nile and some of the other characters. Andy has lived long enough to see the changing face of humanity and that has made her somewhat skeptical about the future of the world and part that the immortals must play in it. She feels that no matter what they do, the world will eventually kill itself. She is also weighed down by an incident from her past in which despite her abilities, she couldn’t save a fellow warrior from eternal damnation. Theron’s brooding act makes us believe and relate to these dramatic portions that were important for the film.

KiKi Layne’s performance, however, left a lot to be desired. I felt that character’s motivations for finally dedicating herself to the group should have been better thought out. The whole process of recruiting her and letting the audiences understand the world of the immortals through her understanding of it was working well until she decides to abandon and then rejoin the group in quick succession. The fact that KiKi neither had the acting guiles nor the charisma to effectively sell this under-developed aspect of her character also drew my attention to it. Her lack of range was even more exposed when she shared the screen with Charlize Theron.

Harry Melling as Merrick in a still from The Old Guard (2020)

Another aspect of the film that doesn’t work is its weak antagonist. Harry Melling plays the head of the medical conglomerate and is the perennial bad guy who overacts to the extent of hamming and yet has no impact on the protagonists. Harry Melling was last seen playing Dudley in the Harry Potter films. I wouldn’t blame his performance as much as I would raise a finger at how his character was written. He wasn’t given anything to work with apart from being the generic bad guys who tries his best to be menacing but fails. He tried to infuse some life into the character by going overboard which in turn made a mockery out of the villain.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is one of the finest actors of recent times and he too is wasted in a role that could have been done by anyone. Again, more than his performance, I would blame the way his character is written for the debacle. His character might assume importance in forthcoming sequels. Matthias Schoenaerts as Booker has the meatiest role among the immortals after Theron and KiKi and he leaves a good impression. I especially liked the scene where he discusses the various aspects of being an immortal and what it entails with the character of KiKi. This scene just goes on to show his mental state and justifies his actions in the subsequent scenes of the film.

Having said all that, The Old Guard is still highly enjoyable especially because of its unabashed action sequences and Charlize Theron’s stellar act. If the makers had any plans of killing Andy in the end or in the sequels, they should drop It immediately. Without Theron and her Andy, this would be a much lesser film. Might even be one that doesn’t merit a view. I would have loved for the film to have a little more action but that is a very minor complaint. By the end of it all, the film sets up a nice little arc that is poised to be utilized in future sequels. Going by how satisfying this film turned out to be, I will be looking out for the sequel. It would serve the sequels well if the makers dwelled a little more into the genesis of the immortals as we would love to know how these beings came into being and if there will be more of them in the future. For now, enjoy The Old Guard.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)    

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