The Old Guard
The Old Guard 2020
This has been on my “to watch next” list for a very long time even though it did completely pass me by when it came out last year. While I did read that this was a popular movie when it was released on Netflix, I never really got a feel for how well people enjoyed it and it never really hit my radar. But when I did finally watch the trailer, I was very interested. I have generally enjoyed everything that Charlize Theron has done even when she’s been in some not great movies. Despite Aeon Flux being awful and Snow White and the Huntsman not being that great, Theron was great in them and Atomic Blonde was one of my favorite comic book movies of the year it came out. There are definitely a few flaws throughout this movie, but overall I quite enjoyed it and I’m glad that a sequel is in the works to start filming early next year. And while this movie is over a year old, it’s still relatively new so here’s your spoiler warning.
This film is about a small group of immortals who have found each other throughout time and decide to do their own form of good deeds, or something like that. It’s not exactly clear what their motivation is though hints are scattered throughout the film. While there are moments of storytelling crutches, there is enough information scattered throughout character moments and action scenes that it rarely feels like there are any exposition dumps. It was a bad sign for the movie to start in medias res, but it was slightly forgiven as it caught up to that moment before the end of the first act. We’re given an audience surrogate new recruit to this group of immortals through a Marine named Nile, but she’s being recruited during a moment of crisis for the group so that there isn’t a whole lot of time spent on catching her up. Instead she’s just given a crash course as she and the audience are fed information in-between action scenes.
The concept of immortals in this film is handled in a fairly interesting way. They don’t know why they’re immortal or technically they’re not exactly immortal, it’s more like they’re unkillable with an indeterminately long lifespan. Charlize Theron plays Andy aka Andromache of Scythia who is anywhere between 3,000 and 10,000+ years old. She tells the story of one other who is barely mentioned except for the fact that he was an immortal who lost his immortality. They are all connected to each other through some type of psychic bond that comes through their dreams. When Nile died/was reborn as an immortal, they all dreamed of her death and used those details to find her. And while the movie doesn’t specifically comment on it, there’s probably some type of unseen force that directs them to carry out the jobs that they do. The group as a whole doesn’t comment on any of these jobs with specific details but the CIA officer, Copley gave them their last job and is hunting them down has been doing his own research. At the end of the movie, he reveals that the small jobs that they have done and the people they had saved created a ripple effect that greatly benefited humanity without the immortals even being aware of the impact they caused.
There are also several great little moments about the detriments of immortality. The biggest one is that they feel pain even though they can’t die. This is revealed through the story of Quynh who was Andy’s first teammate. They were captured as witches and Quynh was placed in an iron coffin and thrown to the bottom of the ocean where she would constantly drown and revive for hundreds of years. Booker also recounts the story of his family, how he watched his three sons grow old and die while he remained the same age. It was a story of pain and anger as they felt he was keeping his secret of immortality from them. All of this was used to try and shortcut Nile’s recruitment to abandon her own family even though she does argue at one point that she could still have many years worth of time with them without risking her secret of immortality. There are a few other moments of interest, though the loneliness of immortality is touched upon but barely given any time as Andy had spent hundreds to thousands of years alone with her secret before finding another.
The action scenes are all handled well, one of the best scenes was early on with a fight on a small drug running cargo plane between Nile and Andy. When the bigger fights happen later, the skills honed through hundreds of years of combat training are shown through their accuracy. Most kills are head shots, and the ammo is replenished by taking the weapons of those they’ve killed. The shots generally keep you in the action without a lot of distracting cuts or stylish slow down/speed ups. Instead it’s presented with a more raw and visceral feel to it. The motivation of the antagonists of the film feel well conceived. There’s the big pharma CEO who basically wants to bottle their immortality and sell it for as much money as he can make while thinking of the immortals themselves as intellectual property that he has to protect and keep to himself at all costs. Also worth mentioning that he is played by Harry Melling who was probably best known as playing Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter franchise and he is excellent in this role playing a similar, yet very different role here. While Copley has been hunting them down for the pharma CEO, he’s also basically being played as he is doing it for the greater good of humanity as he thinks they hold the cure to disease like the one that took the life of his wife. There’s also Booker, the immortal who watched his sons grow old and die and is the mole who had been feeding information to Copley allowing him to capture them. His reasoning behind the betrayal of the team is brought upon by his general malaise and depression that wants to find a way to end his seemingly eternal life. While Dursley’s character is definitely over the top enough that the audience will root for his death, the rest of them are easily redeemable.
There is a lot of world building that has to be done in this movie and while there are some shortcuts that leave plenty of questions unanswered, it does give us the seeds of a fascinating start of a franchise. It teases an easy sequel with the reveal that the thought-lost-under-the-sea Quynh is back and not foaming-at-the-mouth-insane as someone who is very likely to be the villain in the next film. It also throws the somewhat predictable wrinkle that Andy has now lost her own immortality, but it slightly subverts it as she doesn’t go down in a blaze of glory. Instead she survives but is now mortal. Given the reveal of the Quynh it does lead into a predictable outline where Andy will have to come to grips with guilt of knowing that Quynh was suffering but unable to find and rescue her. The outline may be predictable but the details could be interesting and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where this story goes. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.