“The Old Guard,” now streaming on Netflix, is the best “Highlander” movie that’s not actually a “Highlander” movie.
Based off the graphic novel by Greg Rucka (who also penned the screenplay), “The Old Guard” concerns a covert quartet of immortal mercenaries who use their gifts for good … and compensation. The eldest and leader of the group is Andy (Charlize Theron). The youngest is Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), who died and rose again during the War of 1812. The other two members are Joe (Marwan Kenzari, Jafar from Guy Ritchie’s 2019 live action “Aladdin”) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), two Crusaders who killed one another, came back to life and eventually fell in love.
The mercs never work for the same client twice, but when retired CIA agent Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) comes a-knockin’ with a second assignment wherein they can save Sudanese schoolgirls, the offer’s too good to refuse. Turns out the whole mission’s a setup as Copley’s employed by a Limey version of Pharma Bro Martin Shkreli named Merrick (Harry Melling AKA Dudley Dursley from the “Harry Potter” flicks).
Copley and Merrick deploy a death squad who decimate the crew in a hail of machine gun fire. The atrocity is recorded so when they arise to hit the hitters there’s proof of their immortality. Merrick has intentions of capturing and experimenting on the mercs to make a cancer-killing drug. The immortals in turn go on the run.
As the crew is in flight another immortal comes to light. She’s Nile (KiKi Layne of “If Beale Street Could Talk”), a U.S. Marine who’s killed in action only to be resurrected. Andy separates from her squad to bring Nile into the fold. It’s all a lot to take in at first and Nile is resistant. Andy is insistent and doesn’t give her young charge a choice.
Theron may very well be my favorite actress. Her turns in “Monster” and “Young Adult” are two of the best of this young century. She can do comedy (“Arrested Development,” “Long Shot”). She can do action (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Atomic Blonde”). She really does the damn thing in “The Old Guard.” Theron busted on Steven Seagal during a recent interview with Howard Stern saying, “He’s just incredibly overweight and pushing people. He’s overweight and can barely fight … I have no problem talking shit about him because he’s not very nice to women so fuck you!” If Theron’s fights in “The Old Guard” are any indication, she probably could whoop Seagal’s ass today.
Bringing back the “Highlander” comparison – if Theron is equivalent to Sean Connery’s Ramirez (only she’s not a Scot playing a Spaniard … lulz) then Layne is akin to Christopher Lambert’s Connor MacLeod. Andy takes Nile under her wing and it appears as if Theron did the same with Layne. “The Old Guard” almost feels like one actress passing the baton to another. Layne is a talented actress who impressed in “If Beale Street Could Talk” (my favorite film of 2018). She’s even better here. I suspect this young lady’s gonna be a big ol’ movie star and I’m here for it.
“The Old Guard” is a muscular, stylish, progressive and transgressive fantasy-action flick. It’s directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood, best known for relationship dramas such as “Love & Basketball” and “Beyond the Lights.” This is the first movie of hers I’ve seen front-to-back (I’ve seen bits and pieces of “Basketball” on HBO.) – I gotta say I’m a fan and I’ve got catching up to do. I love seeing an immensely talented woman of color getting the opportunity to make something this big budget and this genre. It resulted in a product that’s woke AF.
It’s not every day where a mainstream movie’s primary romance is a gay one; it’s not played as a joke and is handled with sensitivity and care. Kenzari’s Joe has a monologue midway through the movie where he beautifully speaks of his feelings for Marinelli’s Nicky. The speech is impeccably written and performed (Kenzari’s world’s better here than he was in “Aladdin”). It feels as though he’s not only addressing the on-screen antagonist, but also the dude-bros who tend to gravitate towards action flicks. It’s like you don’t have to get onboard, but you do need to be accepting and if you can’t do that you need to get the hell outta the way.
The door’s left wide open for a sequel and Prince-Blythewood’s future. I can’t wait to see what both bring.