The Old Guard Review: A Hearty, Violent Good Time

Over a summer where most blockbuster films are vacating their release dates, super hero films and comic book movies have left their fans hungry for something new. Netflix is set to deliver the first entry into the comic book adaptation genre in months with The Old Guard, an accurate adaptation of the Image Comics miniseries created by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez. Despite releasing on the small screen as a streaming title, the film manages to pack in plenty of the explosive action often associated with the genre, adding touches of style and heart along the way.

The Old Guard follows a group of mercenaries lead by the hardened Andy (Charlize Theron) who work for hire but also work to keep their immortality a secret. As a means to add stakes, the group is immortal until they simply aren't. Little effort is made to explain how such a trait can suddenly wear off without warning but eventually if they die, they really die. However, the film also adds a clever layer to their situation, making death not the worst possible outcome which they are faced with, creating a central purpose for the story which is intense, relevant, and interesting.

Theron and KiKi Layne lead the film with plenty of chemistry, meeting each other with a bit of a rivalry that evolves into an alliance throughout the movie. Layne, best known for her work in If Beale Street Could Talk, fires up her attitude and dials in the choreography skills for fight scenes (props to their stunt doubles, as well) to dance opposite the Atomic Blonde bad-ass. Theron, unsurprisingly, is awesome swinging a comic-accurate ax around as a thousands-of-years-old soldier.

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(Photo: Amy Spinks / Netflix)

In fact, the cast as a whole does an impressive job working together with creative action beats. There is much more than gunplay in The Old Guard, as swords and other weapons are slashing and bashing, while guns still find creative ways to be used as a team effort after the group rises up from being riddled with bullets to show off just how their immortality works.

The heart of the film comes from Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli as Joe and Nicky. Early on, they offer a sense of innocence but go on to showcase a romantic relationship which invests viewers further into the characters. Joe and Nicky are visceral fighters when they have to be but also add the most truly human layer to the movie.

Human elements also mean greed is going to come into the picture, this time in the form of Harry Melling's Merrick. The film's central villain is nothing particularly new to the genre, looking to essentially harvest The Old Guard's immortals as a means to obtain their genes and cash in. Simply trying to work with them is never an option explored so his more villainous approach is the first action, aided by unexpected allies which add levels of complexity both to the overall story but also relationships and individual characters. The Old Guard's story, especially in its antagonists, feels like a polished mash-up of things that have worked well in other similar films. Slap on some talented actors, highly choreographed fight sequences, and upbeat musical cues and you ultimately have a winner.

The Old Guard is not out to reinvent a genre or any particular aspect of filmmaking. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Cloak & Dagger) knows what works and exploits those elements. The action sequences will stand out as much as the musical choices. Sometimes, the electronic beats which come into play might feel a bit out of place when they're more stylish than the simple transition to the next scene but oftentimes the noise adds the intensity and pacing of fight sequences or emotional fallout.

In a summer mostly vacant of comic book movie titles, The Old Guard is an entertaining win. It has enough complexity to satisfy and a healthy helping of heart, action, violence, and themes questioning morality fill out the adaptation of Rucka's work for a bloody exciting first endeavor which will hopefully lead to more.

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Rating: 4 out of 5

The Old Guard lands on Netflix on July 10th.

Disclosure: ComicBook is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.