'The Old Guard' Feels Like It Lasts for Centuries

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

Starring Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthias Schoenaerts

BY Alex HudsonPublished Jul 3, 2020

Generally speaking, the best comic book adaptations go one of two ways: they're giddy blockbusters (Avengers, Deadpool) or they're dark as hell (Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, Netflix's Daredevil). The Old Guard, on the other hand, can't quite figure out what it wants to be, and the result is just a drag.

The film follows a group of near-immortal mercenaries who fight their way through history, upholding justice and steering humanity on the right track over the course of centuries. The small group is led by Andromache (a.k.a. Andy, played by Charlize Theron), who becomes a mentor to the young recruit Nile (KiKi Layne), a U.S. Marine who inexplicably acquires regeneration powers while fighting in Afghanistan.

We soon learn that eternal life isn't all it's cracked up to be: Andy complains that their interventions don't seem to have helped humankind very much, and there are many ponderous speeches about how being immortal means watching all your loved ones die. Meanwhile, ex-CIA agent Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and pharma-bro Merrick (Harry Melling) have figured out the gang's secret, and are attempting to hunt them down and turn them into lab rats.

That might be the makings of a good plot if the film were gritty and nihilistic, but The Old Guard can't even do that right. It's a tonal hodgepodge that never manages to commit to a consistent aesthetic: medieval scenes and historical references clash with clumsy, hyper-modern song placements from Marshmello and Frank Ocean; the group talk gloomily about how God doesn't exist, then moments later offer platitudes about how "everything happens for a reason"; they come packing machine guns, but then sometimes choose to fight with a corny battle axe. The result is wildly unstylish, somehow combining scenes of gore with the tone of young adult fiction. Even half-decent performances from a talented cast can't make it all seem coherent.

The Old Guard does have a few things going for it. It represents a step forward in diversity for the notoriously closed-minded superhero genre, and there's a declaration of same-sex love that stands out as the film's most intense, passionate moment. And it grapples with the existential implications of eternal life in a way that sets it apart from most comic book flicks.

But what ultimately sinks The Old Guard is that it's just a bit dull. With a runtime of 124 minutes, it dawdles its way toward an anticlimactic finale, barely developing any characters along the way. Just think: if two hours can seem this long, imagine how being alive for centuries must feel.

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