Old Guard, The

Rating:

TIME AFTER TIME

Main Cast: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne

Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Perhaps this charming gentleman will be my new neighbor!

Mr. Jeffrey has done it again. I have just come back from the realtors where I have signed a contract to purchase the penthouse at the Nakatomi Plaza in Century City. Usually, I prefer not to live on the downhill side of Sunset Boulevard as Santa Monica and Wilshire are simply full of parvenus but the price was reasonable, the scorch marks and shrapnel holes from the unfortunate incident a few years back have been mostly repaired and I can hardly wait to make my downsize transition from Casa Maine into my new little Castle in the Clouds. I’ve had Joseph, my manager, on the phone with The Learning Channel all morning about documenting my move with a camera crew for a new unscripted series – Living with Lester: moving during a pandemic. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of contrived dramatic situations, some lovely photography of my new abode as it comes together, and a chance to show off my extensive wardrobe as I supervise the packing and moving of all of my valuable antiques, artworks, and important business files.

The next thing that must be done is find a new decorator to come up with some exquisitely timeless interiors in the new space. That tacky water feature in the entrance hall and all that so very 80s wood paneling and recessed neon lighting will have to go in favor of something more tasteful. I was thinking perhaps Victorian Gothic, but with Ottoman Revival Draperies and tilework on the ceiling. I’ll have to cast around for just the right person to help me realize my dream abode. Joseph has suggested some sort of online contest where fans can send in concept sketches for me to judge and select a winner, garnering additional public interest and plucking some lucky young interior designer from obscurity in Omaha to fame and fortune and introductions to important clients whose domains regularly appear in Architectural Digest. Of course, getting the word out about such things is a bit difficult in these Covid Times. It’s a good thing MNM Enterprises has set up a Zoom Channel where my fans can find out all the latest entitled The Zoom Where It Happens. Offerings include my Dance 10, Looks 3 early morning workouts, my afternoon Pilates of the Caribbean (complete with tropical drinks), and my early evening commentary on the weighty issues of the day, Vicki For Victory (complete with martinis and hummus dip).

giant cup of coffee pixabay
My clever new cup holds the perfect amount of Irish coffee!

I was so excited at getting this next phase of life settled positively that I simply had to put my feet up with a film. I made myself a handy quart size Irish Coffee (the world’s only perfect food containing the four essential groups – sugar, fat, caffeine, and alcohol) as I didn’t want to fall asleep half way through as has been my habit of late and then sat down with the Roku and looked at the streaming channels looking for something new and exciting. My choice ended up being the new film The Old Guard with Charlize Theron, recently released on Netflix. I went into it knowing very little about it and ended up being pleasingly entertained.

The Old Guard is an action film with elements of the superhero subgenre, elements of the fantasy subgenre, and elements of the modern war film all woven together into a tale of immortality and its burdens. We begin with a flash forward of dead mercenaries on the ground. Who are they? Who killed them? We then jump back in time to meet Andromache (Andy) (Charlize Theron) and her associates Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), a small private mercenary band hired by Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to rescue a group of captive schoolgirls taken by terrorists in the South Sudan. It is soon revealed that this seemingly ragtag group are highly trained fighters with something else special going for them. They are immortal and cannot be killed by any conventional means. A smarmy big pharma exec (Harry Melling) figures this out and implements a plot to kidnap our heroes for study and the development of new life prolonging drugs. Will our heroes escape? Will there be betrayals and reversals of fortune? Will things be shot, smashed and blown up? If you can’t answer these questions five minutes into the film, you’ve been living under a rock for the last century.

The Old Guard is based on a graphic novel by Greg Rucka who also penned the screenplay. The story, while sounding a bit like The Fantastic Four in broad outline, is a good deal smarter than that. These are not clean, complacent superheroes, these are utterly battle-weary veterans tired of trying to do right and ending up with nothing much besides blood and pain. The film seamlessly weaves back and forth from our present to the distant past as we learn the origins of our heroes, but no explanation is ever given as to why these individuals were chosen to be immortal and none really is needed. It’s arbitrary and random, just like the universe. The director, sure of her material, is Gina Prince-Bythewood, a Black woman best known for her debut film Love and Basketball a couple of decades ago. She would not be the obvious choice for the material but she shapes it in interesting ways and with a strong feminist bent, allowing the female characters to be the natural leaders which goes to show how the world of film, like most other worlds, can be improved by trusting to a diversity of narrative voices.

The other major plot thread involves Nile (KiKi Layne), a black woman combat marine serving in Afghanistan. She is caught in an ambush and mortally wounded but, to her great surprise, awakens unscathed in a field hospital, shortly to be tracked down by Andy and informed that it is now her fate to join with the other immortals in their quest to do good. I don’t think I’ve seen a character quite like Nile before. She’s bad ass, compassionate, good at her job, and nearly steals the movie out from under Charlize Theron which is no small feat. Their battles together for supremacy, in the second act of The Old Guard, are great examples of martial arts film making and given the kind of care that are usually reserved for male action stars. Ms. Layne, in her 20s, is in great shape but the real surprise is Ms. Theron in her mid-40s who de-glamorizes herself, comes across as a hardened soldier and gutsy street fighter, and looks to be in better shape than Ms. Layne. We haven’t had a successful female action star since Sigourney Weaver. I nominate Ms. Theron to ascend the throne.

The supporting cast are all perfectly adequate but aren’t given anywhere near as much to do as our two lead women. Mr. Schoenaerts, a star in Europe but relatively unknown in the U.S. has more to work with than the rest and comes across as aging sexy in the Harrison Ford mold. The nebbishy villain is kind of fun and looks vaguely familiar to most. It’s only later that you realize it’s Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter all grown up and thinned down. He gives a reasonably competent performance with no echoes of the fat bully that we all remember from a decade or two ago.

The Old Guard is enjoyable, worth a look, and better than you think it’s going to be. Some better star power in the supporting roles and maybe some more visual grandeur to the historical flashback origin segments might have been helpful but those are fairly small quibbles.

Pile of shoes. Bullets exiting flesh. Gratuitous wall of clippings. Iron coffin. Marrakech bazaar. Lonely goatherd. Deliberate defenestration. Airplane battle. Evil scientists.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

Bruce Willis image by Gage Skidmore (CC 3.0)

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