MOVIE OF THE WEEK July 10, 2020: THE OLD GUARD

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motw logo 1-35Anyone who enjoys watching Charlize Theron kick ass is going to get a kick out of The Old Guard, director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s adaptation of Greg Rucka’s graphic novels about a squad of immortal mercenaries who fight for the good of humanity. Not only is it full of popcorn action, but it raises interesting questions about duty, loyalty, and chosen families.
 
Andromache of Scythia, aka Andy (Theron), and her close-knit team have fought tirelessly over the centuries to turn the tide of wars, rescue the vulnerable, and keep the world heading in the right direction. They don’t know what has made them the way they are — able to heal quickly, Wolverine– or Deadpool-like, from even the gravest injuries — but they’ve chosen to use their abilities for good. They drift through the world in the shadows, avoiding attachments and trusting only each other.

The immortals’ preference to exist under the radar makes it all the more shocking when they’re set up by a trusted contact (Chiwetel Ejiofor) so that a tech billionaire can see proof of their healing powers — ostensibly to help make the world a better, healthier place. But we all know how movie tech billionaires tend to operate, and altruism isn’t at the top of their list of priorities. In order for the team to make it through this challenge, they’ll need the help of their newest member: Nile (KiKi Layne), a young U.S. soldier who miraculously survives a knife to the throat but isn’t sure that she’s ready to turn her back on everything she knows to become part of Andy’s squad.

Naturally, all of this involves intense fighting, tons of blood, and wince-inducing hits with weapons that range from grenade cannons to ancient axes. Prince-Bythewood shows a strong instinct for filming the action scenes, and Theron is in excellent form as she whirls, kicks, and punches her way through hordes of minions. Never once does anyone question the fact that Andy, a woman, is the leader of this team; between her and earnest Nile, the immortals have a powerful female energy driving them forward, which is refreshing to see in a mainstream action film. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

MaryAnn Johanson I love this! Gina Prince-Bythewood brings an empathetic humanity to the plight of her immortal protagonists in a movie that is much more engagingly ‘human’ than comic-book stories onscreen often manage as it explores the realistic impact its fantastical premise would have on people. The question “What would it be like to live forever?” has been asked plenty often before, but it’s baked into the story and the characters here in a way that feels deeply authentic. And I love the dynamic between Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne’s characters, a rare mentor-mentee relationship featuring two women. Brava!

Nikki Baughan: In the hands of director Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard is a far more subtle and introspective superhero movie than we’re used to seeing. That may have something to do with the fact that it’s a straight-to-streaming Netflix original, but its focus on the emotional and physical toll of saving the world offers a welcome change from the consequence-free carnage that usually heralds the arrival of the summer blockbuster season. Read full review.

Nell Minow: Gina Prince-Bythewood may be the most deeply, unabashedly romantic director working today. Her films Love and Basketball and Beyond the Lights are in a different category from the usual Hollywood idea of love, with a quick montage of the highly photogenic couple walking through a farmer’s market and riding bicycles along the beach. Her films are about profound connection and commitment. There is a moment in this film that will be in clip reels of the most true-hearted movie depictions of love forever. It brought tears to my eyes and a flip-flop to my heart and it was in the middle of a graphic novel shoot-em-up movie about characters with superpowers. But those are the kinds of layers Prince-Bythewood brings to this story, grounded in fine performances by all involved, especially Theron, Layne, and Schoenaerts, and in those existential questions, here answered in part (come on, no one has more that a part of the answer) in a manner that is romantic and satisfying and leaves us curious about the next chapter.

Susan Wloszczyna: As superhero action movies based on a series of comic books go, Netflix’s The Old Guard manages to spin a few new tricks on an overdone genre as it takes its cues from Peter Parker’s motto, “With great power comes great responsibility,” but with a twist at its center. The main quartet of crusaders vanquishing evil in this adventure are centuries-old immortal mercenaries who have the ability to magically heal their own wounds and live to see many more days of do-gooding. Read full review.

Leslie Combemale The Old Guard is one of those films that makes you wish there were 30 or 40 more like it. It has ladies kicking ass and collaborating, with absolutely zero sexualization. It celebrates complicated female characters, warrior women showing physical strength, fearlessness, and empathy. That way so many of us felt when we saw Wonder Woman for the first time and realized we’d never seen ourselves in exactly that way onscreen? That’s what you’ll feel watching The Old Guard. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood gives us the best, most compelling version of the script written by the creator of The Old Guard graphic series, Greg Rucka. She required the inclusion of a representation of queer love so powerful in his series, and leaned into the depth of character integral to its success. One of my favorite films of the year, and one action fans can watch repeatedly, this will propel Kiki Layne to the top of the actors A-list, and reaffirms Charlize Theron as a lead action hero for the ages. Prince-Bythewood has shown once again just how talented and laser-focused she is as a director. She should have a pile of scripts the height of Mt. Everest offered to her. Read Gina Prince-Bythewood interview.

Kathia Woods: Charlize Theron is back in action as Andy, a mercenary with special gifts. On the other side of the world is Nile (KiKi Layne), who doesn’t know it yet but is on a collision course with Andy. The Old Guard is a rush-hour tale of good vs. evil, with a little supernatural thrown in. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who’s known more for personal dramas like Love and Basketball, demonstrates that she has the chops for invigorating action, too. Rarely do women get to lead this kind of film — especially two at once — and the chemistry between Theron and Layne is believable. The Old Guard is the kind of summer film we’d rush to the theater for but now have the luxury to see at home.

Jennifer Merin The Old Guard stars Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne in the Gina Prince-Bythewood-helmed screen adaptation of Greg Rucka’s graphic novel series about a gang of immortals who have, for centuries, protected mortals from the evil-doers who would put an end to human society. In this chapter, the immortals are fighting off a profit-motivated menace who wants to extract their DNA to create a life-prolonging drug that can be marketed for millions. And, there are lots of exciting Charlize-centered action sequences to support the plot.

Loren King Gina Prince-Bythewood stages the many action and fight scenes with lightening-quick finesse and she gets dynamic performances from her entire cast. But the heart and soul of the movie is Charlize Theron, gleefully believable as a 6,000-year-old warrior who’s saddled with a ghost that will no doubt figure in the next installment of this franchise. Theron is as fierce as she was in Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde but still manages to reveal Andy’s pain and weariness at having to battle humanity’s ignorance and injustice again and again and again. Read full review.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Gina Prince-Bythewood is one of America’s most underappreciated writer-directors, period. Her now 20-year-old debut Love & Basketball remains one of the best romantic coming-of-age films, and her follow-ups The Secret Life of Bees, Beyond the Lights, and now The Old Guard prove that she’s capable of working in various genres with the same thoughtful eye to character development, relationship building, and performance. Although she makes only two feature films a decade (she directs television in between), they are always worth the wait. The Old Guard, adapted by Greg Rucka from his graphic novel, is a pivot from the dramatic romances in Prince-Bythewood’s filmography. It’s a pulse-pounding supernatural action thriller about immortal soldiers, starring Charlize Theron and scene-stealing Kiki Layne (If Beale Could Talk) as well as host of male supporting characters who are all fantastic: Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, and Luca Marinelli. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays an enigmatic ex-CIA operative. What’s impressive isn’t just the fighting sequence (it’s always a pleasure to see Theron slay so effortlessly), but the heart and compassion and humanity the characters show. The plot, like the graphic novel, requires suspension of disbelief, but the story is so compelling for once viewers won’t mind a sequel-chasing ending.

Pam Grady: A group of immortals normally battle evildoers on the behalf of humankind, but the latest threat they face is directed squarely at them when a Big Pharma CEO attempts to turn them into lab rats in order to develop new therapies and reap a big bonanza. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s adaptation of Greg Rucka’s graphic novel series leans way too heavily on exposition, but in between explanations, a thrilling action movie erupts. Charlize Theron as the oldest of the immortals, and KiKi Layne as the youngest, are convincing as relentless warriors incapable of backing down from a fight. Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, and Matthias Schoenaerts make up the rest of the team that excels in gun play, knife fights, and sheer rock ’em-sock ’em athleticism.

Liz Whittemore Graphic novels make for compelling page to screen opportunities. The Old Guard is no exception. Charlize Theron’s nonchalant charm and graceful power radiate off the screen in this thoroughly engrossing plot. In an attempt to monetize the DNA of a handful of mercenary immortals, this film stages superb fight choreography that seems to dance in perfect step with cinematography and editing. Outside of films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I cannot recall action scenes and violence that feel this elegant. Beautifully immersive with killer pop songs under each heightened scene, The Old Guard is not your average action flick. The backstory is juicy enough to justify a franchise. Netflix has a brand new goldmine on their hands. When the world is no longer enduring the COVID pandemic, this would easily become a huge convention draw for graphic novel creator Greg Rucka, cast, and crew. The fandom will most certainly be there. There are innumerable stories to explore here. Bravo to director Gina Prince-Bythewood for bringing The Old Guard to life. I am already hungry for more.

Cate Marquis Charlize Theron plays the leader of a team of spec ops mercenaries with very special skills in sci-fi action film The Old Guard. We’ve seen action teams led by women before but one thing that sets this one apart is that the rest of the team are men and she is the unquestioned leader, one they all call boss. Another thing that sets this band of four highly skilled paramilitary specialists apart this that only take assignments that do good, such as the mission to rescue some kidnapped girls. The movie has an intriguing science fiction premise but really, the emphasis is more on action and personal bonds between the team members, rather than the science fiction aspect. Theron’s Andy is the only woman on the team until they learn of new potential member, a young African American Marine (KiKi Layne), an addition that proves an adventure in itself. The Old Guard boasts a nice cast that includes Matthias Schoenaerts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Harry Melling. The adventure has an comic book action hero style, a uniquely diverse mix of characters and plenty of action. It’s pure escapist entertainment but it is fun.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: The Old Guard

Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Release Date: July 10. 2020

Running Time: 118 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Greg Rucka

Distribution Company: Netflix

Trailer

Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Sharronda Williams, Susan Wloszczyna, Kathia Woods

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).