As movie theater closures threaten to drag out over the entire summer (or winter, if you're in Australia), Netflix's vault of original movies is something of a blessing.
The results this year have been mixed so far, with a few highs (Chris Hemsworth in Extraction was a fun lockdown distraction), one definite low (The Last Days of American Crime has 0% on Rotten Tomatoes) and one we can't make our minds up about (Eurovision Song Contest).
The Old Guard doesn't really feel like a movie you'd pay actual money to see during a packed blockbuster summer season, but it's close enough, given the current circumstances. Starring Charlize Theron, it's about a group of immortal warriors who have shaped history for hundreds of years. If you gun them down, they'll heal and get up again, Wolverine-style.
Unfortunately, now their secret has been exposed in a sting operation, and they're the target of a big pharmaceutical company that wants to create life-extending medicine by experimenting on them.
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At the same time they're joined by a new recruit, a former soldier called Nile (KiKi Layne) who enters their ranks after surviving a throat slitting in combat. The immortal warriors are all spiritually connected, too, appearing as visions to each other.
It's a hokey-but-entertaining premise, and it only seems sillier when we flash back from gun fights in the present day to shots of Charlize Theron on horseback carrying an axe into battle. The Old Guard's main problem, though, is that it doesn't spend enough time having fun being an action movie with this outlandish concept.
Instead, this film explores the trauma that haunts these people who have been living for too many years, and regret the way history has turned out at their hand.
That's a bold choice, but The Old Guard doesn't get under the skin of the characters in a way that's particularly interesting. It just amounts to these immortal beings talking about how sad they are to other characters – and there aren't quite enough exciting set pieces to punctuate these moments of introspection.
The brief glimpses of the warriors' past lives, mostly in Photoshopped newspaper clippings and other old images, don't quite sell the idea that these people have truly been around for years and years, either. This is an element that probably makes more sense on the page in the comic The Old Guard is based on.
The immortal warriors are a mostly forgettable bunch, too, even with the serious star power of Theron in the cast, who's a reliably great performer. Layne does make a strong impression, though, and the movie benefits enormously from the presence of sort-of villain in Doctor Strange's Chiwetel Ejiofor. The Old Guard is just a strangely dour movie, that should be having a little more fun than it is.
When the action finally gets going in the last 30 minutes, the set pieces are well-choreographed and exciting to look at, but this movie really needed a lot more of them. The Old Guard amounts to something that feels like a pilot episode for a TV show, setting up the adventures of these immortal beings, with a clear indication that Netflix has the pieces in place for a potential sequel.
A runtime slightly north of two hours is pushing it, too, and we wonder if a slimmed-down version of The Old Guard with a better proportion of action to monologues might've made a more satisfying watch.
As it stands, though, since we can't watch Tenet or Black Widow right now, The Old Guard is certainly better than nothing. It's a respectable effort to make a deep and character-driven action movie that doesn't quite pay off – but it's a new film, with a big star, that occasionally has enough action to get the blood pumping. That's almost enough to get the job done.
The Old Guard is out now on Netflix worldwide