The Old Guard (R) ★★★½

Charlize Theron and Matthias Schoenaerts star in “The Old Guard.” Photo Credit: Netflix.

Superhero Withdrawal?  Charlize Theron is Here to Help

Superhero movies coupled with summertime have been a constant in our lives for almost two decades, so it’s been a strange summer without a Marvel Universe, Star Wars, Batman, or X-Men to fill theatres. Given the budgets and value of these franchises to studios, big superhero releases have been delayed indefinitely until theatres can once again welcome houses. Fortunately, Netflix has stepped into that void with The Old Guard, a well-made superhero film that is yet another example of Charlize Theron’s fantastic talent as an action movie lead.

The action, adventure and fantasy flick opens with Andy (Charlize Theron, Bombshell, 2019) and a few comrades lying lifeless on the floor as bullet casings surround them on the ground. Andy narrates over this violent visual. She has been here so many times before and each time she wonders “is this the time?” The scene then cuts to Andy walking down the streets of Morocco sometime before the attack in the opening. She meets up with a colleague, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts, A Hidden Life, 2019), who tells her about a meeting for a potential new job. Andy and Booker are mercenaries and they soon reunite with the rest of their team, Joe (Marwan Kenzari, Aladdin, 2019) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli, Martin Eden, 2019) at a safe house. As the group catches up after a substantial amount of time apart, it is revealed that Andy is the team’s leader. Lately, she is debating whether or not the work they are doing is actually helping people as the quality of life in society continues to decline. Despite her misgivings, she and Booker meet with James Copley, a former CIA agent, regarding a potential mission. Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, 2019) tells them about a group of kidnapped children in South Sudan. Although Andy doesn’t like her team working with the same people more than once, they take the job and head to the camp where the children are being held captive. As they infiltrate the facility, it’s clear the group is highly trained and seemingly fearless, but they fall into a trap nonetheless. The four easily reach the room where the children have been brutally gunned down and a firing squad awaits them.

The story is far from over, however, as the four reveal what makes them so special as mercenaries. Despite dozens of seemingly fatal gunshot wounds, the four are revived and take out the assassins who don’t understand what has happened to the group they thought they just killed. Audiences soon learn that the four all have the power to heal from any wounds. Although they cannot seemingly be killed, they can be captured and now they know someone is hunting them for their unique abilities. They also know, via a shared telepathic connection, that another person, a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan (Kiki Layne, If Beale Street Could Talk, 2018) has just discovered that she has their healing power too. She is the first new person to gain that power in more than one hundred years. Now, the foursome must find their would-be hunters and retrieve this soldier before the group hunting them discovers her power.

Charlize Theron stars in “The Old Guard.” Photo Credit: Netflix.

Screenwriter, Greg Rucka, adapted the story from his own graphic comic novels that he wrote in 2017. Since most viewers likely don’t know this film’s backstory, it will feel like an original story for casual fans. Director, Gina Prince-Blythewood, successfully took that script and used her production budget to create an action movie that combined elements of the best special forces-type war movies, but with a superhero twist. While the work behind the camera is impressive, the heart of the movie is Theron as Layne. Although Theron is an Oscar winner for her work in dramas, she may end up being best known as an action star (Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde, 2017).

Layne, who gets second billing, is also great in her role as a former marine coming to terms with the special powers she discovered. If Theron and Layne were not captivating in their lead roles this film would not have worked, no matter the storyline. Thankfully, they were both up to the task and delivered strong performances and then some.

The rest of the team is made up of international actors that may not be familiar to American audiences, but hold their own as members of Andy’s mercenary squadron as well as the company hunting them down. Although this is a superhero movie for the most part, it feels more like Black Hawk Down (2001) or Lone Survivor (2013). For audiences interested in a movie with extensive CGI and special effects, this may not be for you as the action is more ground in realism.

Bottom Line: With superhero movies on hiatus, take a chance on The Old Guard, which does an excellent job of combining modern war movies within the superhero genre.

Credits: Written by Greg Rucka; Directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood

Starring: Charlize Theron (Andy / Andromeda of Scythia), Kiki Layne (Nile Freeman), Matthias Schoenaerts (Booker / Sebastian Le Livre), Marwan Kenzari (Joe / Yusuf Al-Kaysani), Luca Marinelli (Nicky / Niccolo di Genova), Chiwetel Ejiofor (James Copley), Harry Melling (Steven Merrick), Van Veronica (Qunth), Anamaria Marinca (Dr. Meta Kozak), and Joey Ansah (Keane)

Studio: Skydance Media

Running Time: 125 minutes

Jessica DeLong © July 14, 2020