‘The Old Guard’ review: high-concept action thriller is a new kind of superhero romp

Charlize Theron fronts this spandex-free Netflix adventure about a team of immortal mercenaries

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    Disney have cornered the market in big screen superhero adaptations. Even Warner Bros., with a stableful of DC characters to choose from, are struggling in the face of Marvel and the Mouse House’s world domination. Netflix are the latest studio to try and get in on the act, but even as the Internet blows up in excitement at The Old Guard, you have to ask: is there room for yet another comic book franchise?

    First published in 2017 as a graphic novel, The Old Guard focuses on a close-knit group of veteran super-soldiers who travel the world, generally doing good things and tracking down bad guys. They are also hundreds of years old, and although they may eventually die, their wounds heal instantly. Preferring to work in the shadows, trouble starts when the gang take on a job from shady government type Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Unbeknown to the supers, they’re being set up by someone hoping to unlock the secrets behind their powers.

    The team is led by the eldest of the bunch, Andy (Charlize Theron), a sombre, tired woman with a backstory too dense to tell in this movie (although they try). She lends her gravitas to a group who, frankly don’t need the star power. Joe (Marwan Kenzari), Nicky (Luca Marinelli) and Booker (Mattias Schoenaerts), do an excellent job of selling the idea that these people have been stuck with each other for centuries.

    The Old Guard
    ‘The Old Guard’ arrives on Netflix this Friday (July 10). Credit: Netflix

    The group are soon joined by newcomer Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne), a marine in Afghanistan who survives a deadly knife attack and, shunned by her confused army buddies, is drawn to the Old Guard who explain that she’s not like everybody else. It’s a premise that has been done many times before, but where similar films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine failed, The Old Guard succeeds because of its well-written script.

    Delivered in between a series of flashy fight scenes – mostly played out to a lazy soundtrack of dance bangers – this punchy dialogue adds heft to the quieter moments. There’s an intriguing romance that develops between two members of the team – and it offers a sub-plot that few, if any, superhero movies have bothered to consider before (we won’t spoil it here).

    The Old Guard
    Harry Potter stalwart Harry Melling plays Merrick in the new film. Credit: Netflix

    Admittedly, The Old Guard checks off a series of familiar plot beats, but director Gina Prince-Bythewood makes the most of a modest budget – and brings sophistication to a run-of-the-mill action thriller by treating it like an in-depth character study. Whether or not Netflix have managed to muscle in on Marvel’s territory remains to be seen, but with so much more to learn about this unique set of characters (and a post-credits scene offers a hint at Netflix’s intentions) it would certainly be a shame if their story ended here.

    Details

    • Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
    • Starring: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts
    • Release date: July 10 (Netflix)
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