In many ways, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Old Guard is cinematic comfort food, a stew of ingredients drawn from other cinematic dishes. There’s ample John Wickian murderbot action (with the corresponding, also ample, body count of faceless henchman). There’s a slice of those “immortal vampire blues” (minus fangs, a need for blood, sparkle, and whatnot). There’s also a good amount of “wounds-away” regen that’s been a special effects staple since Hugh Jackman Wolverined here and Wolverined there. Even the presence of Charlize Theron as Andy, the leader of said guard—a group of immortals who use their particular set of skills to right wrongs and, again, kill so many henchman—is comforting. Theron’s embrace of the pulpier veins of cinema far predates her turn as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, and she’s one of a handful of contemporary action stars whose presence in a starring role guarantees both an “I’m there!” from fans and a “That’s probably worth checking out” from casual viewers. As such, this is exactly the type of movie to fill in the blank for sentences that begin with, “I don’t know … I’m just kinda in the mood for ____.”
Of course, one doesn’t look to comfort food for surprises, and in terms of plot and action, this adaptation of Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández’s 2017 series—Rucka wrote the screenplay, as well—does not provide many. Andy and crew (played ably by Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli) are introduced, betrayed, murdered (they get better) and soon joined by new recruit/audience surrogate Nile (KiKi Layne). From there, Andy and company fill Nile in on La Vida Immortal as bodies drop, wounds heal and flashbacks flash back until we’ve reached a predictable end that sets up things for The Old Guard 2: Guard Harder.
That said, there are plenty of noteworthy things about The Old Guard outside of plot and resolution. Seeing Prince-Bythewood finally get the opportunity to hop genres in a way plenty of young white male directors do all the time is satisfying, even if, coming 20 years after Love & Basketball, it feels like, what, 18 years longer than it should have been? Then there’s the simple pleasure of watching high caliber actors occupy the pulp. Beyond the value of good acting making sometimes corny lines and situations feel real (the Obi-Wan Test?), it’s a reminder that the once completely separate paths of “critically acclaimed” and “summer action” or “comic book movie” are now the same road for actors like Theron, Layne and Chiwetel Ejiofor. (Bring home the paychecks and the statuettes, why not?)
It’s also nice to see comic book properties from publishers other than Marvel and DC make it into the pop culture mainstream. In terms of movies, The Old Guard publisher Image Comics has been there before with Spawn, Bulletproof Monk and, obviously, The Walking Dead. But between The Old Guard and Valiant’s recent Vin Diesel-anchored Bloodshot, the pandemic pause by Warner Bros and Disney at least has given some other publisher properties a chance to be seen.
So, yeah, The Old Guard may be comfort food, but during this particular year, and thanks in large part to this particular cast and crew—it will hit the spot for many.
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Writers: Greg Rucka (screenplay, graphic novel); Leandro Fernandez (comic book co-creator)
Starring: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harry Melling
Release Date: July 10, 2020 (Netflix)
Michael Burgin is the Movies Editor for Paste.