It is safe to say that 2020 has been kind of a bummer in the cinematic world. With Covid-19 closing down all movie theaters and delaying a lot of the hotly anticipated movies to later in the year or even next year, there hasn’t been to really look forward to. Though we have gotten some gems throughout the year, the only movies that we have been able to view since March have movies that have been sent directly to video-on-demand, which have been very hit-and-miss in terms of quality.
But through this storm cloud of a cinematic year, Netflix has been the ray of light through all of this. Last month they gave us Spike Lee’s epic Da 5 Bloods and now they’ve given us The Old Guard, a smart, thrilling, violent, emotional graphic novel adaptation that features yet another stellar turn from the great Charlize Theron.
Based on a series of comic books of the same name, The Old Guard looks at a warrior named Andy (Theron), who leads a covert group of tight-knit mercenaries with a mysterious inability to die have fought to protect the mortal world for centuries. But when the team is recruited to take on an emergency mission and their extraordinary abilities are suddenly exposed, it’s ump to Andy and Nile (Kiki Layne), the newest soldier to join their ranks, to help the group eliminate the threat of those who seek to replicate and monetize their power by any means necessary.
The warriors at hand are like that of the X-Men’s Wolverine, though unlike Wolverine, who is said to be born in the 1880’s, some of these warriors have been around since before the Crusades. These are people who have lived for over a thousand years, which has come at a cost to all of them. Director Gina Prince-Bythwood and screenwriter Greg Ruck – who co-wrote the graphic novel – do an excellent job of focusing the film on these warriors. Each one of them has backstory and though we don’t get all one-thousand-years worth of backstories, we understand them as people. We feel the pain that Andy and Booker (Mathias Schoenaerts) are living with after seeing everyone they’ve loved die, we feel the love that Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) have for each other after being together for so long, and we understand Nile’s fear and confusion with her new powers. In a lesser action movie, the film would focus more on the set pieces and the action and less on the characters. But not The Old Guard. This is a movie that cares about its characters, which is the special touch of the film.
The ensemble cast is uniformly great, each one being believable and authentic, particularly Layne, who’s star continues to rise. But The Old Guard lies on the shoulders of Charlize Theron and she knows how to carry a movie. With Prometheus, Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, and now The Old Guard, Theron has all but solidified herself as the best action movie actor working today. Theron owns the physicality of her characters. Whether Andy is wielding an axe, a gun, or using her fists, Theron effortlessly moves with her weapons and eliminates anyone in her path. Ruck even gives Andy a great action line at the end of the movie that will go down as one of my favorite lines of the year.
But what elevates Theron’s performance is how she expresses emotion in Andy’s face. Andy is the oldest of all the warriors (we don’t know how old she actually is) and she has been through things nobody could imagine and the blood on her hands runs forever. Theron wears the pain, exhaustion, sadness, and anger that Andy has built inside in her eyes and her shoulders. With a simple glare and no words, Theron is able to tell us everything we need to know about how Andy is feeling. This is more than a great performance in an action movie, this is one of the great performances of 2020.
I loved The Old Guard. Gina Prince-Bythewood is a name everyone needs to recognize and I love that Netflix gave her the budget and freedom to make this movie. This is one of the best movies of 2020 and movie I hope gets a sequel immediately.
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