By Tara Monastesse
Andromache, or Andy, played by Charlize Theron, is the battle-hardened leader of a group of immortal warriors who serve as de facto protectors of the planet. In “The Old Guard,” Andy finds her crew targeted by greedy scientists who plan to kidnap them, extract their biological data, and replicate their powers of regeneration. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the film brings impressive choreography and new concepts to the action genre. But it stops just short of transcending it.
Perhaps the biggest flaw with “The Old Guard” is the risks it doesn’t take. While the rogue group of scientists is clearly immoral, the movie never delves into the serious question posed by their attempt to create a drug that extends human life: What do we owe to the rest of humanity? Moral questions like this present themselves throughout the movie, but instead of exploring them further, Prince-Bythewood always swerves back to more traditional fight sequences.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with that—after all, who doesn’t love watching Charlize Theron bring a sword to a machine gun fight? For a movie that’s trying to bring new depth to the genre, however, the lack of commitment to challenging storytelling in favor of gunshots and bloodshed feels tiresome. When a new member of the immortals’ group, Nile Freeman, played by KiKi Layne, questions Andy about the lives she takes without hesitation, the film appears to be on the cusp of an engaging conversation about the nature of life and death. Instead, they part ways and return to their action-flick adventures.
The immortals in the film feel almost hollow, as if their centuries of life had no role in shaping the people they’ve become. While Andy has mastered multiple languages and fighting styles over the course of human history, she ultimately presents herself as any other 21st century woman would. This is understandable, since hiding her immortality is easier if she blends in. But Theron doesn’t quite convey the burden you might feel defending humanity over centuries; often, she just looks tired.
However, I enjoyed the dynamic between the immortals, their camaraderie and constant wise-cracks, as well as the compelling romantic relationship between immortals Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). Despite its shortcomings, “The Old Guard” is a fun addition to the world’s pandemic playlist. I just wish it were more than that.