The Old Guard – review

Brief synopsis: A team of immortal mercenaries are recruited by an ex-CIA operative for a mission to rescue some kidnapped children. The mission turns out to be a trap and the team is ambushed. After escaping the ambush, the team realise that they are being hunted and must evade capture.

Is it any good?: The Old Guard, with the always watchable Charlize Theron in the lead, is a moderately entertaining actioner that is perhaps a little too long and miss-paced in parts. The acting is good from all on show and the action sequences are entertaining but the film does suffer a little from having a weak antagonist.

Spoiler territory: after some time apart from her team, immortal warrior Andy (Charlize Theron), meets up with Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), whilst walking through the cavernous paths of Morocco. Booker tells her about a job being offered by an ex-CIA operative, James Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who had got them a mission before.

Andy is reluctant to take the job, pointing out that they do not work for the same people twice. Booker persuades her to meet with Copley. The two get together with the other members of the team, Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). Andy is the leader and the others are happy that she is back to lead the mission.

Andy and Booker meet with Copley. He tells them that some girls have been snatched and he wants the team to retrieve them. He tells them that the intelligence he has leads him to believe the girls will soon be moved from the location they are thought to be held in. Andy takes the mission.

The team of four easily and efficiently breach the compound in South Sudan looking for the girls. There is nobody in the bunker. Blinding lights come on in the bunker and the team are ambushed by a military unit who open fire, firing hundreds of bullets at the team and putting them down. The team are left on the ground, riddled with bullets.

The unit begins to retreat, thinking their mission is complete. On the floor, the team all come back to life. They slaughter the unit that attacked them. Andy notices that cameras are watching them. They had been set up. Copley has recorded the whole incident.

The team need to disappear and Andy wants to find Copley. In Afghanistan, an army unit is searching a village for a man. One of the female soldiers, Nile Freeman (Kiki Layne), is sent to go and question some of the women in the village. Freeman goes and speaks to the women. One of the older women tells her that no man would hide amongst the women but indicates a door behind her.

Freeman and two of her colleagues breach the door and find the man they are searching for in a small room. Freeman is forced to shoot him. The man is not dead and, because they were trying to taking him as a prisoner, Freeman goes to the man’s aid. She is momentarily distracted by one of her colleagues. The man pulls a knife and slices her across the throat.

Freeman dies. On a freight train, Andy and her team are hiding in a carriage. They fall asleep, all dream about Freeman. They wake up and piece together their varying fragments of dreams. She is one of them. Andy decides to go to Afghanistan to get her. The rest head to France.

In Afghanistan, Freeman’s fellow soldiers are spooked by the fact that she is not only alive but shows no signs of having had her throat slit. Freeman is as confused as they are. In London, Steven Merrick (Harry Melling), is addressing potential investors as he discusses his company’s research into increasing life expectancy and the eradication of certain age-related diseases.

Copley shows Merrick the video of the team coming back to life after the ambush. Merrick wants him to capture the whole team to aid his research. Back in Afghanistan, Freeman has orders that she is to go to Germany for testing. As Freeman waits for her flight, Andy comes and knocks her unconscious. Freeman wakes up in the back of a humvee. She tries to escape. Andy shoots her in the head.

She waits for Freeman to come back to life. Freeman comes back to life but is reluctant to embrace her new reality. Andy tells her she can answer her questions. The two women get on a plane to France. On the plane, Freeman has second thoughts and tries to hijack the plane. She ends up fighting with Andy. After getting a couple of her limbs broken, they come to a truce.

They get to France. Freeman meets the other immortals. She finds out that most of them have been alive for centuries. Andy is the oldest. They also can die. Andy explains that they will eventually just not heal after an attack or death.

As the team sleep, Andy sits looking at her hand. Something is off. Freeman wakes from a nightmare, waking up the whole group. She tells them she saw a woman trapped in an iron coffin underwater, drowning and coming back to life, fighting to escape. They tell her that woman is Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo) who had met Andy.

The two lived and fought countless battles and had come to England to fight heretics. They had been tried as witches and sentenced to death. When they would not die, it had been taken as proof of their witchcraft. Quynh had been separated from Andy, put into an iron coffin and thrown into the ocean. Andy feels guilty for not having found her.

Joe and Nicky get grabbed by some of Copley’s men. A unit is waiting to grab Andy. She kills all of them. Copley, who had been watching from a remote location in a van, leaves the scene. Andy, Freeman and Booker change location. Andy, who had been stabbed in the shoulder during the last fight, finds that the wound is not healing.

Joe and Nicky are taken to Merrick’s headquarters. Merrick stabs Joe multiple times to see if he will heal. Joe heals almost immediately. Both men are sedated and taken away so as doctor Kozak (Anamaria Marinca), a geneticist, can experiment on them. Copley questions Merrick’s ethics. Merrick tells him he wants the other two immortals.

The team continue to look for Copley. Andy does not tell the others that she is not healing. She leaves Booker and Freeman alone. Booker tells Freeman about the emotional downside of being almost immortal and ageless. Andy gets patched up at a drugstore. Andy recalls an immortal, Lykon (Michael Ward) dying, the only one she has ever known to die.

Copley realises that Merrick’s vision for pharmaceutical advancement by studying the immortals is not as altruistic as he was led to believe. Doctor Kozak takes samples from Joe and Nicky. Andy and Freeman talk about being immortal and how time takes away so much. Andy confesses to giving up looking for Quynh.

The team find Copley. Freeman is not comfortable going on the mission. Andy tells her she can leave and gives her the gun Booker had given to her. Freeman drives away. Andy and Booker go after Copley. Freeman stops to check her weapons and notices that the gun Andy had given her had no bullets in it.

Andy and Booker get to Copley. Andy trains her gun on him. Booker shoots her in the back and begins to tie her up. Copley tells Andy that he has tracked her through history. He hopes that by helping Merrick he can help to end the sort of suffering his wife faced having died of ALS two years before.

Booker notices that Andy is not healing. She wants to know why he betrayed them. He tells her that he hopes they can find a way to allow them to die. Merrick’s team come and collect Andy and Booker. Copley protests again but is knocked unconscious. Andy and Booker are taken to Merrick’s headquarters.

Freeman finds Copley and asks him where Andy and Booker are. He tells her that Merrick took them to the lab. He takes her to the lab and gives her a pass card to get into the building. Freeman gets into the lab and frees the team. The five of them wreak havoc through the building whilst protecting a no longer immortal Andy.

Andy and Freeman face-off with Merrick. Freeman jumps out of a window with him and crashes into a car parked several storeys below. The team escape before the police turn up. They have a meeting about Booker’s betrayal and banish him for one hundred years.

Six months later, a drunk Booker returns to his apartment to find someone has broken in. It is Quynh. The end.

Final thoughts: The Old Guard is an entertaining though slightly long film. It is definitely helped by having Theron as the lead as she carries the film through some of the more ham-fisted exposition that happens. Truth be told, most of the actors are well cast, filling their roles ably. Ejiofor is thrown in as a bit of a red herring, a misdirection making one think he is the antagonist.

Unfortunately, he is not and the wholly underwhelming Melling as Merrick is revealed as the main antagonist. As the antagonist, Melling does not offer any real threat and plays more like a spoilt rich kid. This is probably the film’s biggest weakness, especially as there are some lulls between the action scenes.

Written from his own graphic novel by Greg Rucka and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard is quite well directed and the action scenes play particularly well, considering that Theron has also been given the ‘Wick’ treatment in her action-starrer, Atomic Blonde.

At one hundred and twenty-five minutes long, The Old Guard is a little on the long side. As I mentioned before, the weak villain does detract from the film’s urgency, so the film does drag a little in the quieter moments.

The Old Guard is worth a watch if you are a fan of Theron, who has the kind of physical presence that allows for the suspension of disbelief needed when she is handing out a whooping. The Old Guard is not a bad film but it does feel a little bloated and slightly underwritten. That being said, the ending hints at the possibility of a sequel and the backstory alluded to in the film is quite intriguing. Worth a watch.

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