Marvel and Netflix's very public breakup begged an important question: Without a stable of ready-made superheroes, could the streaming giant keep pumping out lucrative action blockbusters? Sure, Netflix bought comics publisher Millarworld, and there's also Umbrella Academy, but is that enough to take on the Avengers?
Enter: The Old Guard, a breezy fun action-thriller based on an Image Comics series. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and led by an armed and dangerous Charlize Theron, The Old Guard is a paint-by-numbers excursion that doesn't rewrite the playbook but executes its goals with precision. The Old Guard hits fast, and it hits hard. Will you want more? Maybe.
Based on a comic by Greg Rucka (who also wrote the script) and Leandro Fernandez, The Old Guard is a story about immortality and its unexpected frustrations. Andromache/Andy (Theron), a fearsome warrior from Scythia, leads an elite team of immortal mercenaries in the modern-day. Their mysterious connection to one another allows them to recruit a newcomer: Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne), a U.S. Marine. Once together, they evade Merrick (Harry Melling), a billionaire hellbent on kidnapping the immortals and exploiting their long life for profit.
Actors Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, and Luca Marinelli round out the cast as other immortals from very old wars who follow Andy's lead. Chiwetel Ejiofor also stars as "Copley," a role that can't be fully described without spoilers. (Though I can say it sucks Copley isn't a physical role considering Ejiofor's capabilities as seen in Firefly and Doctor Strange.)
Smart in its action direction and just smart enough in its storytelling to let you subscribe to whatever zaniness it has in store, The Old Guard is a low-stakes distraction with a few neat, novel tricks. A dizzying hand-to-hand fight scene between Andy and Nile offers up the most fun in its core premise of immortals who — unlike anyone in a Mission: Impossible or Fast & Furious — don't care whether the plane crashes and burns.
The Old Guard is also impressively grounded by a set of strict-ish rules about how immortality works. Yes, they still feel pain. Yes, it's annoying. No, they don't know why they're immortal. No, it doesn't last forever. One day you just die, and that will be that. And so here is a group of traumatized misfits that haven't just lost people to the cruel passage of time, they've lost their own, and they don't know any more about it than they did centuries ago. These all serve to plant the necessary stakes and tension needed for when bullets fly. Even immortals need to have something to lose.
In many ways, it's unfortunate The Old Guard is an action movie. Sandwiched between the (well done!) action is a compelling, cosmic drama about love, loss, and permanence. None of this ever gets the proper time it needs to marinate (save for Andy's backstory that delivers a predictable post-credits twist). The movie only gestures towards questions about the burdens of lasting life.
What is a lifetime of violence, really? Just how much scarier does imprisonment become? Unfortunately, the movie revels too safely in familiar villainy flavored with the stale zest of big pharma. Through and through, The Old Guard is an action movie, so when things get too thoughtful there's always a fight scene to and dumb things down.
Theron anchors the movie solidly as Androamche/Andy. As the oldest and most haunted — soured by the loss of her lover centuries ago — Theron dominates the picture with ineffable, irremovable anguish. There are similar energies to Andy as there are Theron's other known roles, like Furiosa (Mad Max Fury Road), Lorraine (Atomic Blonde), and Cipher (the Fast & Furious movies). Though The Old Guard doesn't let its greatest asset loose like she did in Atomic Blonde, the film still belongs to Theron and she makes it her own.
Functionally fun and easy to sink into, The Old Guard is a low stakes investment with nifty returns. It's zany but not too much, violent but not more than anything else you've seen. It's a movie you'll find no problem keeping up with as you doomscroll on Twitter or fold laundry.
More important than all that, Netflix just launched a new potential franchise where Charlize Theron can't die. When you have that, who needs Marvel?
The Old Guard will stream on Netflix on July 10.