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"THE OLD GUARD"
(2020) (Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: A small team of immortal mercenaries must contend with others wanting to take their DNA for various reasons, all while adding a new member to their team.
PLOT:

Andy (CHARLIZE THERON) is the oldest member of a small team of immortal mercenaries who've fought the good fight and then some for centuries and more. While she lost another immortal, Quynh (VAN VERONICA NGO), long ago, she's kept her current team -- comprised of Booker (MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS), Joe (MARWAN KENZARI), and Nicky (LUCA MARINELLI) -- together and under the radar for the past several hundred years. But now they've been contacted by former CIA agent Copley (CHIWETEL EJIOFOR) who hires them to rescue kidnapped children. In reality, however, that's a set-up as Copley is working for big pharma CEO Steven Merrick (HARRY MELLING) who wants Andy and her team captured so that he can profit from selling to the world a new drug based on their extracted DNA.

As Andy sends the rest of the team to avenge that treachery, she sets off to bring recently killed Marine corporal Nile Freeman (KIKI LAYNE) into their fold, having learned that she's immortal like them. The young woman initially wants no part of this shocking and unwelcome development, but Andy informs her that this is her new reality. As Nile tries to adjust, Andy is determined to hunt down Copley and Merrick and make them pay for their actions.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

I know how frustrating it can be when something you've been working on for a long time comes apart, be that from bad luck or the actions of others -- intentional or not -- that ultimately undermine your work. And I'm referring to something personal that really only affects yours truly. I can't imagine the level of disappointment, disillusionment, and/or anger that arises when something large-scale that's designed to help or at least benefit in some way a great number of people ends up derailed, especially as a result of and by the hands of unjust or cruel people.

That's what's facing Andy, the currently fed up protagonist played by Charlize Theron when we first meet her in "The Old Guard." Actually, our initial impression of her is via voice-over as we see her lying dead, bloody, and full of bullet holes along with a handful of others on a floor covered in bullet shells. It would seem, based on that initial look, that things have gone horribly awry for her as she stares into the abyss, with wide-open, dead eyes.

Like many a film that's seen the light of movie projectors (and now home TV screens) over the decades, the story then rewinds to earlier in the proceedings so that we can see what's going to lead up to that fateful moment. And that's when we learn of Andy having given up trying to save the day after a lifetime of doing so (and then some, we later learn) and having a "humanity can screw itself" mindset.

Along with her fellow mercenary, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), she's meeting Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a former CIA operative who wants to hire them to rescue some schoolchildren in South Sudan who've been kidnapped by militants after killing their teachers. But the rescue mission ends up being a trap and Andy, along with Booker and fellow team members Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), are riddled with machine-gun fire and end up dead on the floor as we earlier saw them. And then the end credits begin to roll and you start to think that might be one of the shortest movies you've ever seen.

That's how things would have played out had our protagonist and her comrades been ordinary people. But they're not Donald Sutherland or Mary Tyler Moore types and instead have more in common with certain characters played by the likes of Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, and Tom Cruise. While they might not have the same insatiable thirst for blood (at least the type that flows from a victim's jugular into their fangs), we quickly learn they're similarly immortal as they pop up and quickly wipe out their attackers.

And now they're mad and what to avenge this wrongdoing and set off to find Copley and the one-dimensional big pharma CEO (Harry Melling) who hired him, all to get his greedy, profit above morals hands on their DNA to market some "forever young" products to the masses. At the same time, though, our quartet -- who have been through thick and thin over and over again over the centuries -- has had a collective vision of a newcomer who's just like them, something that hasn't happened in a few hundred years.

When we first meet Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne), she's a Marine in Afghanistan trying to find a terrorist, only to have her throat slit by said man. Yet, her graphic neck wound isn't the end of her, and before the rumors among the ranks swell to uncomfortable levels, Theron's character sweeps in, abducts the young woman and literally beats and shoots the immortal truth into her.

As directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood -- who works from Greg Rucka's screenplay adaptation of his own graphic novel of the same name -- the pic moves along at a quick clip (despite its slightly too-long running time of just a bit more than two hours) -- and is filled with decently choreographed and executed action sequences (albeit not to the same "holy cow" level of the equally violent and graphic "John Wick" flicks).

With plenty of action pics now under her belt, Theron is an old pro at handling such material in completely believable ways and, like before, it's a pleasure watching her kick some behind even if it's filtered through a not exactly original world-weary prism. Layne holds her own being new to this sort of material, and Schoenaerts, Kenzari, and Marinelli are fine in the supporting roles.

I would have preferred a more substantial and fleshed-out character for Ejiofor, while Melling gets the weakest character as the one-dimensional big pharma villain. But no one is watching this sort of film for Oscar level performances or even the thematic material so commonly found in more serious vampire flicks about the pitfalls of immortality. No, they show up for the action, and thankfully all involved here don't allow a few problems to derail the overall effort.

Setting itself up for a sequel that I'd be willing to watch, "The Old Guard" delivers what's expected of it and thus rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed July 7, 2020 / Posted July 10, 2020


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