With a summer where action cinema has been absent from theaters, Netflix is taking matters into its own hands. Charlize Theron, a band of immortal warriors, guns, axes, and sword on paper, The Old Guard has it all to strike a chord.
As the saying goes: “You are never better served than by yourself”. Netflix has understood this very well and is always diversifying its productions to please the greatest number. And if the platform is never stingy when it comes to making the powder talk. We can cite for example 6 Underground or the recent Balle Perdue -, it still lacked the installation of an action franchise able to compete with John Wick and his big-screen buddies. This is the ambition of The Old Guard, a feature film inspired by Greg Rucka’s comics, for which he himself signs the screenplay. As a figurehead, Charlize Theron continues to build a serious career as a jawbreaker after having proven herself in Aeon Flux, Mad Max: Fury Road, or Atomic Blonde.
She embodies Andromache the Scythe, alias Andy, leader of a band of mercenary warriors fighting for justice across the world. and the ages thanks to their particularity: their immortality. We find there Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), the “little youngster” who died for the first time during the Napoleonic Wars, and Joe and Nicky (Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli) adversaries during the crusades before becoming lovers. Their clandestine life will be endangered when a pharmaceutical company seeks to transform them into guinea pigs, and Nile (Kiki Layne), an American navy, finds itself endowed with the same gift.
History to tear off the bandage immediately, we can say that Netflix has put the cart before the horse by not hiding its ambitions of license for The Old Guard. In its characters’ treatment until its last scene, the film continues to set the stage for a sequel. From then on, he wastes his time (a duration of 2 hours, it is not nothing) to install us purely utilitarian elements for a future interest, thus choosing to sacrifice the narration of this “episode”. As an example, we can cite poor Chiwetel Ejiofor, mono-expressive moreover, whose each scene cries “wait for the continuation”. Likewise, Joe and Nicky get very limited attention from a script that prefers to save them for later.
A forgivable fault if the whole actually made you want to go back. But The Old Guard lives up to its name and never goes beyond the framework of a good B series that we have already seen a hundred times in the past. The story is agreed upon, fulfilling its specifications to please its target with many required passages and some sequences clearly lack budget. Andy’s flashbacks as an Amazon warrior are more like clips from the Xena series. We could laugh about it if the film didn’t take itself too seriously for what it tells.
So series B of course, but series B effective! Although The Old Guard lacks freshness, it does not lack guts and features plenty of sequences that will delight fans of the genre. At the crossroads between Highlander and The Expendables, we can even say that the film assumes its imperfections to highlight its qualities better at the head of which we find Charlize Theron. The actress with the very 90s look for the occasion makes her physique speak and guns or slices anything that crosses her path with envy. At his side, Kiki Layne takes his first steps in the genre by offering a solid performance.
We must also salute the work of Gina Prince-Bythewood, a director unknown to us, who lets martial choreographies express themselves and serve the script. This is particularly noticeable in group battles where one can only appreciate the spectacular coordination of warriors fighting together for hundreds of years. For once, each action scene of The Old Guard tells something about its characters and it’s rare enough to be fully appreciated.
Finally, we cannot ignore the emotional moments of a story which, when it thinks of something other than its continuation, manages to hit the mark. It only takes one scene for Matthias Schoenaerts to turn immortality into a curse or for Marwan Kenzari to transcend love in the face of homophobia. In a genre where everything seems to have already been done, The Old Guard does not revolutionize anything, but brings its stone to the building. To see if it will be strong enough, like its heroes, to withstand time …
Perfectible on many points, The Old Guard still seems far from having the capacity to be THE action franchise made in Netflix despite several good ideas and commendable clashes. But don’t sell Charlize Theron’s skin until you’ve killed it, especially if it’s immortal.