At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Old Guard “2020”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Action-Fantasy /Stars: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harry Melling, Veronica Ngo, Anamaria Marinca, Joey Ansah/Runtime: 124 minutes

I feel it only appropriate to note dear reader that although lead actress Charlize Theron has spent her entire career always attempting to both critics and the general movie going public that she is not only a genuine talent, but also has a wonderful skill at being quite versatile of an actress, that here lately she has developed a certain degree of fondness for the action genre. Indeed even though her first time up at bat was the 2005 film Aeon Flux, the less said about that the better, she managed to do even better the second time around, and managed to create a truly iconic character in Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, and then managed to follow that up with a phenomenal, complete with plenty of butts kicked, turn as the lead character in Atomic Blonde. Thus the moral here Hollywood is thus: if the material has the legs to work, then Theron will use her phenomenal talent to help make it a truly awesome film to behold. The reason I bring this up is because the latest film to prove my Theron thesis is a movie from Gina Prince-Bythewood known as The Old Guard. Indeed not only does this film give Theron the ability to become a gonzo ruthless and quite lethal warrior armed with a battle axe coupled with a strong desire to try and do the right thing, but it also inserts such a character in a world that is constructed through a well-inserted mythology of sorts, but it also puts her as the leader of a equally-engaging team that all have one particular thing in common which I will leave for you to discover in the paragraph below. Indeed the story may be very familiar and quite predictable, but there are enough positives here to nullify that and help ensure that audiences will be entertained from beginning to end.

The plot is as follows: An adaptation of the comic book of the same name, The Old Guard begins by introducing audiences to a quartet of individuals by the name of Andy, Booker, Joe, and Nicky who make up a….rather special you could say elite unit for hire. Indeed this may be a group that may not look like they belong together until you factor in the element that each and every one of them have been alive for hundreds of years and subtly influencing the course of human history. Thus led by Andy a.k.a. Andromache of Scythia, who is undoubtedly the oldest of the quartet, this unit/ surrogate family of sorts has decided to devote their seemingly everlasting existences on our little blue and green planet to do the very best job that they can to try and make a difference, which when you are given the ability to live for hundreds of years more than the average person I guess is a lot easier to try and do; a feat that more often than not however usually curtails the team into embarking on, for all intents and purposes, assignments that are rather mercenary in nature since they can survive things that no other team ever could dream of. An item of note particularly since, when our story opens, we see the team agreeing, against Andy’s better judgement, to embark on an assignment being handed to them by a client/ ex-CIA spook by the name of Copley. Yet just as they embark on the assignment the team is hit with two barrels from a shot-gun they, for once, didn’t actually see coming from a mile away. The first barrel is that the assignment is nothing more than a ploy to see them in action due to Copley operating at the behest of a man by the name of Merrick. A man who, in addition to possessing the facial features of Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter if he actually lost quite a few pounds, is also a powerful and ruthless pharmaceutical CEO who wants to harvest the team to acquire the secret to their elongated life span. The second barrel is that, in their getaway from the job gone awry, the team is hit simultaneously with a glimpse at a potential new team member in the form of a Marine named Nile who has just surfaced in Afghanistan.  Thus the team must now not only find this new recruit, and attempt to bring her into the fold, but also manage to keep both her and themselves safe from Merrick, his personal hit squad, and his vile plans for them no matter what the cost…

Of course, as should be expected due to the type of story being told, The Old Guard decides to use the bringing into the fold of Nile, operating here as the eyes of the audience into this world, as a primary method to give the audience exposition in a way that feels…real. Yet, unlike some of its peers in that effort, the film never feels tired or worn out from doing so since the narrative it is showcasing for us is so intriguing, well-designed, and quite immensely detailed. Indeed the idea of immortality is one that has intrigued mankind for centuries, and is one which the movie actually looks at from a wide selection of perspectives and points-of-view. It is also the key to being able to showcase the cast of characters, both protagonist and antagonist alike, on a more internal level than we might be expecting. Indeed every character has their own specific purpose in the narrative, and it is actually quite intriguing to see a film that is able to work on all these different levels. The downside, sadly, is that all of these ideas that this film possesses have to be put together in a film that, for all intents and purposes, has to work as an origin story that introduces our complicated group of protagonists and their equally as complicated if not downright complex place in our world. Indeed it has a wee bit of a dampening vibe when thinking about the whole film even whilst watching it, but it still manages to work nearly as effectively, and (without going into spoilers) it does manage to give us a few building blocks for a follow-up, should the powers that be at Netflix wish to make one, that could be just as good if not better than this.

Now one of the more intriguing methods through which the movie decides to tackle its core concept of immortality is how the movie showcases it through the action/combat beats that are an integral part of the film. With that being said, it should be noted that every beat of action in this film is riveting, pretty darn awesome, and surprisingly well-filmed. Indeed for a maker of movie magic that has never been at the helm of an action film before, Gina Prince-Bythewood manages to do a truly excellent job here as not only are the action moments both clear and concise, to say nothing of quite thrilling, but they also match up quite well with whoever in the cast is engaging in those particular moments at that time in the movie. Indeed pain may be a legit issue for these characters, but killing strikes aren’t, and it is quite intriguing to see how that is mixed in to the rest of the movie especially in moments where things have gone completely off-the-wall crazy. Of course it should be noted that, amongst this cast, all of whom deliver fantastic performances in their respective roles, and all do a fantastic job at kicking butt, it should not come as a surprise to learn that Charlize Theron manages to regularly be the absolute dynamic force to be reckoned with to the point that she has, for all intents and purposes, become a female John Wick. A fact that quickly becomes apparent when the film lets you witness her absolutely annihilate a room full of trained and skilled combatants all by herself and yet make it feel real and believable for every single minute. Yet the surprise in this film has to absolutely be probie to the world of action filmmaking KiKi Layne as Nile. Indeed for someone who is not familiar with this particular genre, she not only manages to hold her own, but also manages to utilize her character’s military background to be a ferocious fighter all her own. Hopefully she continues to work in this genre as her own still relatively new career moves forward because she would be sorely missed if this was the only time she took part in a film in this storied genre.

All in all it may often feel like a strong overwhelming desire for films that are similar in many respects to this one to attempt to cultivate some semblance of uniqueness amongst its cast of characters by providing each individual with their own special skill or trait. Thankfully one of the huge positives that this film has going for it is that it chooses not to utilize that particular narrative cliché. Instead the movie chooses to allow each character’s distinct personality, background, and their relationships with the other characters in the movie be the item that defines who they are as individuals. Thus by doing so, this then gives the film the distinct advantage of depending on the performances a bit more than usual, but this is most certainly not a stumbling block to be found here. That is because there are no weak spots in a cast of this caliber as each of them have managed to create such distinct characters that you actually desire to see more stories with them by the time the end credits pop up on the screen. Suffice it to say then that, as a movie distributor, Netflix is actually doing a fairly decent job in the world of action filmmaking this year despite the ongoing health crisis both here in the United States and around the world. Indeed this is one title that will definitely keep your interest and have you on the edge of your seat in interest. So just sit back, relax, hit play, and enjoy a ride nearly unlike any other. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Old Guard a solid 3.5 out of 5.