With movie theaters open but not yet getting my patronage, I have yet to watch many new movies recently. Part of my reticence has to do with (if you can believe this) a lack of an adventurous spirit when it comes to my movie experiences. I love going to the cinema, probably more than most the films I actually view. I do tend to be more critical than praising of Hollywood output. Still, there are many films that I do enjoy immensely, and that has formed the basis of much of my viewing in the past few months. Every now and then, though, I think about all the movies I have seen and in trying to decide which one I want to review, they do not always capture my imagination. Thus I sat down last night to see The Old Guard.
Initially, I was a little worried as one of the first lines in The Old Guard is, “I’m just so tired of it.” This is from Andy (Charlize Theron), the leader of a group of four immortals, and she is referring to her weariness with eternity. Her little band of warriors use their ability to not die (even when being mortally wounded by anything) to help people. But there is a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative, James Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who has learned of their existence in spite of their desire for secrecy. He wishes to reveal their abilities to the medical community because he believes they hold the key to solving all diseases, particularly amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease more commonly) that killed his wife. He finds a willing partner in Steven Merrick (Harry Melling, and if you see this and wondering why he seems familiar, he plays Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter franchise), head of a pharmaceutical company bearing his name. But first Copley needs to prove to Merrick that Andy’s group’s powers are real. Thus Copley gets the eponymous team to agree to attempt to rescue a fictitious set of female Sudanese hostages. It is, of course, a trap designed to show Merrick that they could not die. After Copley reveals the footage of the act to Merrick, they determine to capture them as a whole in order to research their DNA. At the same time, it is revealed to the four that there is a fifth immortal out there, Nile Freeman (Kiki Layne), and Andy sets out to bring her into the fold. Once they are all together, Copley and Merrick’s henchmen attack the immortal’s hideout and two of them are captured. The remaining three, believing that Copley is the main person responsible for their recent troubles, catch up to him in his home. There it is revealed that one of their number, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), had been feeding information to Copley all along. Copley, though, is beginning to regret his schemes as it appears that Merrick’s only motivation is to brutally torture Andy’s people in order to physically extract their secrets and greedily profit from the medical breakthroughs sure to come. It is left to Nile and Copley, after Andy and Booker’s abduction by Merrick, to save her newfound companions. Having accomplished this with bloody elan, Copley becomes the group’s go-to man for information on future missions.
There is really nothing special about The Old Guard. It is not bad either. It is just, “meh.” It is not terribly original, either. The plot smacks of the Highlander franchise of films and television shows. Andy and her people even seem to favor edged weapons, like swords and axes. I guess the only real difference between the two is that in The Old Guard there can only be four, or five, or six. I say six, actually, because at the very end it is revealed that Andy’s old companion (in every sense of the word), Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo), is still alive. Sometime in the sixteenth century she had been locked in an iron coffin, thrown into the sea, and forced to drown over and over again . . . maybe. Apparently, for unclear reasons, immortals can eventually die if their wounds stop healing. Andy had seen this happen before, she assumed it happened to Quynh, and it had begun to happen to her. This part is never explained. It just happens.
There is one thing I would like to compliment The Old Guard for, and what earns it a “meh” and not broad condemnation for its derivativeness. It begins with the immortals’ desire to do good in the world. Their overarching mission is to bring about a better world. Andy is presented as being frustrated with the pace of change she observes over the centuries, and is increasingly jaded by our modern world. It is Nile who convinces her once more that their efforts are worth it. My favorite exchange between the two comes when Nile begins praying in Andy’s presence. The elder woman scoffs at this act, claiming God does not exist. “My God does,” Nile replies forcefully. While Nile is initially skeptical of the group’s seemingly mercenary ways, she is convinced of their good when she sees the evidence Copley collected as to their deeds throughout history. God uses people as instruments of His will that we would not typically expect. The Bible is full of instances of the lowly, like Jesse’s youngest son David or one of the greatest persecutors of Christians Paul, to go on to do extraordinary things. Granted, there are no such things as the immortals of this film, but the message is that the greatest good is done by those of whom we never hear. And that is how they want it, a virtuous humility.
You could do worse than The Old Guard. Lord knows I have seen that demonstrated spectacularly of late. You could also do better. It is rated R, and its violence does not make it family friendly. I almost gave up on it soon into its run time as it was not clear exactly what was going on, who these immortals were, or how their powers worked. These details came out slowly, and kept my attention enough. But if you are looking for something new, go for it.