Along with producing a bevy of binge-worthy shows and awards-caliber films, Netflix has dipped their toes into blockbuster filmmaking. The early results have been generally unimpressive, with efforts like Bright and 6 Underground failing to translate grandiose thrills to the small-screen. These missteps have not stopped the platform’s pursuit of tentpole projects, returning from the drawing board with The Old Guard, an adaptation of Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez’s graphic novel. I am thrilled to report that The Old Guard not only dwarfs its streaming contemporaries, it also emphatically raises the bar for the superhero genre with its surprisingly tender approach.
The Old Guard follows Andy (Charlize Theron), an ageless warrior leading a group of immortal figures who look to stop worldwide atrocities (Matthias Schoenaerts as Booker, Marwan Kenzari as Joe, and Luca Marinelli as Nicky). After a newly-initiated immortal Nile (Kiki Layne) is discovered, the team must join together to battle an organization looking to harness and monetize their abilities.
At the center of The Old Guard lies an equally capable and appealing ensemble cast. With her grizzled bravado and commanding presence, Charlize Theron continues to thrive as one of the best stars in the industry, as her adept ability allows the actor to render some much-needed humanity out of her struggles with mortality (or in this case, lack thereof). Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli are a joy to watch as a romantically entangled pair, creating a lived-in onscreen dynamic that never steps into stereotypical territory. Matthias Schoenarts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Kiki Layne enhance their respective roles, with Layne breathing an effervescent life into her role as the team’s newcomer.
Where most superhero ventures simply infuse their protagonist with abnormal abilities to create endless bloodshed, The Old Guard refreshingly peels at the veneer of these larger-than-life figures. Screenwriter Greg Rucka’s adaption keeps the work’s intimate design largely intact, constructively exploring the emotional complications that derive from a life of immortality. This uncontrollable inflection is by no means the gift, with the team being sentenced to a life of isolation devoid of the familial bonds and a sense of completion. It’s incredibly gratifying to watch a superhero film grapple with its premise’s deeper implications (the characters even question the nature of their violent vigilantism), allowing our heroes to be more than empty vessels of carnage.
That’s not to say The Old Guard doesn’t offer the crowd-pleasing pleasures of the genre. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood delicately balances the insular character building with rousing setpieces, taking full advantage of the creative premise with some inventively designed stuntwork (seeing a character jump out of a skyscraper to then witnessing their bones reheal on impact is glorious to watch). Some may leave the film wanting more bone-crushing fights, but I believe the restraint is well-calibrated to ensure each setpiece has an actual impact on the narrative.
There’s a lot to like about The Old Guard, but the final product still features its fair share of blemishes. Rucka’s narrative gives his characters room to breathe, but it also straddles them with the standard-issue action conventions. Whether its the mustache-twirling villains or over-eager pop tracks that fail to add much of a pulse, there are elements that could have been refined to generate a more original experience. Personally, I hope that a potential sequel steeps itself further into the film’s promising social implications, with the characters standing strong as agents for progressive concepts.
Infusing its familiar superhero framework with a well-calibrated balance of thrills and humanity, The Old Guard excels as a promising first chapter in a new franchise.
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