The Reel Review

B+

Charlize Theron dusts off her action skills honed in Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde for this Netflix film adaptation of the 2017 comic book series from co-creator Greg Rucka. The action fantasy is about a group of immortal mercenaries who battle evil villains throughout the millennia to save humanity and reshape the course of history. Their identity is exposed just as a new member enters their ranks.

Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne in The Old Guard.

In some ways, The Old Guard has the feel of a sloppier, clumsier knockoff of the Marvel and DC franchises, with all of the expected heroes, non-stop action and choreographed fight scenes. But director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees) makes her action film unique in several interesting ways. Most obvious is its clever premise, incorporating figures in ancient history, and in its female-led protagonists. In addition to Theron, KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk) plays a U.S. soldier who becomes a reluctant new immortal after surviving a brutal killing in modern day Afghanistan. The film also takes on a more emotionally introspective look at the heartache of immortality – it’s sad living forever when your loved ones don’t – and features an impressive love story between two of the male immortals that puts the anemic LGBTQ nod in Avengers: Endgame to shame.

The immortal mercenaries in The Old Guard

Despite all the feels, there is still plenty of silliness and comic relief to be found. And while parts of the film borrow a little too much from Theron’s Furiosa character in Mad Max: Fury Road – even recycling a couple of that movie’s key catch phrases – the end result is a fantasy action flick that  threads the needle in being both mindlessly fun while also being clever and introspective. And based on the post-ending teaser, there is much more to come.

REEL FACTS

• Charlize Theron, who has been in at least two movies per year since 2014, has said her character in The Old Guard is thousands of years old.

Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli in The Old Guard.

• After screen testing Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli to check their onscreen chemistry, Theron and story co-creator Greg Rucka say they knew Marwan’s big monologue about “his boyfriend” would be great. Said Theron: “It came from such a deep place within him. It was undeniable he just sold it, really feeling that way.”

• Both Marwan Kenzari and Chiwetel Ejiofor have played Disney villains – Marwan was Jafar in 2019’s Aladdin and Chiwetel was Scar in 2019’s The Lion King.

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