PLOT A young Marine discovers she is one of history’s select few immortal warriors.
CAST Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts
RATED R (strong violence)
WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Netflix
BOTTOM LINE An entertaining comic-book movie with a strong cast and realistic action.
After centuries of battle, the four immortal warriors at the center of “The Old Guard” are wondering whether it’s all been worth it. They’ve been killed and come back to life countless times, though the Crusades, the U.S. Civil War, the Cold War, several decades of Middle-Eastern conflict — and for what? “The world isn’t getting better,” says Andy, more properly known as Andromache the Scythian. “It’s getting worse!”
Just wait’ll they see 2020.
“The Old Guard” arrives on Netflix as the hopeful beginning of a franchise that might see our immortal heroes battling all manner of evil in the future. That may or may not come to fruition, but for now the movie works as a globe-hopping shoot-em-up with a supernatural undercurrent and a streak of comic-book grandiosity. (It’s based on the Image Comics series by Greg Rucka, first published in 2017.) It’s also a fine example of a rare genre: The female-led and female-made action film.
One woman who’s been helping spearhead that trend is Charlize Theron, who plays Andy. The character may not be as memorable as Theron’s buzz-cut Imperator Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road” or her sexy-cynical secret agent in “Atomic Blonde,” but she gives Andy an appealing combination of swagger and world-weariness. The film opens with her getting Swiss-cheesed by a hail of bullets while she complains of ennui. “I’m just so tired of it,” she groans.
At first, there are only three other immortals on Andy’s team: Booker, played by a sleazy-handsome Matthias Schoenaerts; scruffy tough guy Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and the baby-faced but deadly Nicky (Luca Marinelli). Those latter two men are lovers, a relationship the film handles casually, save for a poetic (and rather moving) speech about eternal love that Joe delivers to a sneering bad guy.
The team’s newest member is Nile Freeman (Kiki Layne), a young Marine who discovers the hard way that she’s unkillable. Nile appears just in time: A greedy pharmaceutical CEO named Merrick (Harry Melling) hopes to kidnap the immortals, replicate their DNA and make a fortune by selling eternal life. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays ex-CIA agent Copley, whose agenda shifts more than once as the plot unfolds.
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood may not have tremendous visual panache, but she wisely goes for a realistic feel in her action scenes — no slow-motion bullet-dodging here. That helps us believe in these characters and invest in their futures. All told, “The Old Guard” provides solid, well-made entertainment suitable for a Friday evening — which these days is a noble mission indeed.