Charlize Theron can’t die, and neither can the excitement.
Charlize Theron plays a soldier named Andromache of Scythia, or Andy for short, who has been battling her enemies for centuries. “For centuries,” because she and her fellow mercenaries (Matthias Shoenaerts as Booker, Marwan Kenzari as Joe, and Luca Marinelli as Nicky) are immortal, and they have been keeping their identities a secret. They’re the good guys, don’t worry.
That’s the set-up for “The Old Guard,” a made-for-Netflix action flick, based on a comic book series, which is more entertaining and more interesting than that dreadful Vin Diesel bomb “Bloodshot.” It has a better story about how the heroes’ immortality powers can have their benefits and doubts, and director Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “Beyond the Lights”) presents the action and fights with style and levity.
They have two situations to deal with. They have been set up by an ex-CIA agent by the name of Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who plans to expose their existence to the wealthy scientist baddie Merrick (Harry Melling from “Harry Potter”). And they must find the first new recruit in 200 years-a young marine named Nile (KiKi Layne from “If Beale Street Could Talk”), who apparently survives getting her throat slit in Afghanistan. They knew about this girl, because they all dreamt of her, and they stop dreaming of each other, when they meet.
The immortality thing can get complicated for Andy to explain to Nile, because despite this power, an immortal can die. And if they are captured by the authorities, consider this life in prison. For example, a solider’s (Michael Ward) wounds couldn’t heal, and the first immortal Andy discovered (Van Veronica Ngo) was accused of witchcraft, and was thrown in the sea for eternity. And big wounds take longer to heal.
Theron and Layne both deliver the goods in their own unique ways, because they have their own dramas they wish they can overcome, and how they use their words, muscles, and brains. But mostly, they never succumb to a typical action movie cliche, where the oldest tells the youngest to quit whining, and the youngest acting all stupid and scared. Theron is the oldest, but she’s also wise and considerate; and Layne is the youngest, but she’s also passionate and charming.
Shoenaerts is also able to ease his emotions when his character struggles with the power, Ejiofor is likable when he explains his character’s reasons, Marwen and Marinelli give some solid work as the other two members, and Melling has taste as the main antagonist.
Written by Greg Rucka, who co-wrote the comic book, “The Old Guard” balances the action with drama and comedy without each genre overlapping one another. Running for 2 hours, the movie uses patience and skills to explain how the comic’s views of immortality can have its ups and downs. You could live forever, but you could also die. And you can experience almost all of world history, but you could also experiences the horrors of war. It’s hard to explain, but the actors are still able to handle the script well.
“Bloodshot” was cinematic junk food that took the most obvious and the most empty approaches. This one takes its chances, and has a Hell of a fun time doing so. The stunts and fight choreographies are impressive, the antagonists have their intentions, and the heroes have their vulnerabilities. Ergo, “The Old Guard” never lets its guard down.
Available on Netflix