Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard follows a team of immortal warriors who are exposed and must fight to keep their identities hidden. Based on the comic book of the same name, the screenplay is written by Greg Rucka, who also co-wrote the comic book.
When The Old Guard released its trailer, I was under the impression it was going to be, more or less, another hack and slash action film with a barebones story and endless action sequences featuring Charlize Theron kicking ass, similar to Extraction (2020). However, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the story and the world-building that the film takes time to set up. Up until the 10-15 minute mark, it looks like it’s going to be a generic revenge story but it takes a turn that results in the film not having a tonne of action sequences and really developing a strong and engaging story for these characters.
There is a very strong focus throughout the film on building the story, building the characters, establishing backstories, developing relationships and setting up the world in a way that cements this film as franchise material. It is done so in a very clever and exciting way that gives you enough about the world and the characters to be wholly invested in their journeys, but leaves enough to mystery so that you want to see more. The fact that so much focus has been placed on the story is why it’s so engaging the whole way through. Yeah, action is cool, but a strong story is so much more valuable when you want an audience to be invested in whether the characters live or die.
Take the aforementioned Extraction starring Chris Hemsworth, for example. The film is packed with endless action from beginning to end, with a very barebones story to link everything together. Everybody loves Chris Hemsworth, but if you took him out for the next film and replaced him with any other Hollywood actor, the film would the same impact as you’re showing up for the action. Here, if you take out any of the main crew for the next film, it’s not going to be the same because of how invested you are in those specific characters and their journeys.
Now, placing a lot of focus on the story doesn’t alway mean it’s going to be good. Here, the story is fast-paced and very tight, never losing sight of where it wants to go in the long run. When the film begins introducing one of the main players in the story it does have a momentary dip in the pacing, which is a little jarring in comparison to the fast-paced opening sequence. Once it gets past that short transitionary sequence, it gets better and better as it goes on. It does inevitably fall back on some genre tropes but, for the most part, the story is quite original.
There may not be as much action as anticipated, but when the action sequences do hit, they’re awesome. One of the unique details about these characters is that they all wield a sword or axe as well as an arsenal of guns. This allows for a number of top-notch action sequences that blend gunfighting with close-quarters swordplay in some creative ways. Although the action sequences are thrilling, I feel like they only just touched the surface of what they could do with the fight choreography given the film gets a sequel.
When it comes to the performances, Charlize Theron (Andy) leads the charge in terms of kicking ass during the action sequences and bringing a decent amount of emotion to the story. She sells the whole ‘immortal warrior’ angle really well and is convincing as a gun and axe-wielding badass. KiKi Layne is Nile, the youngster who joins the team in this film and she turns out to be one of the more intriguing characters, not for her past, but for what she could accomplish in this world. KiKi is great in the role and shares a great deal of chemistry with Charlize, which leads to their relationship being one of the strongest.
The rest of the team are all solid in their roles and do well to convince you that they are a crew who have been running alongside each other for many, many years. Matthias Schoenaerts (Booker), Marwan Kenzari (Joe) and Luca Marinelli (Nicky) share a number of great scenes together and all get you invested in their characters within the first act. The film also stars Chiwetel Ejiofor who absolutely kills it in his limited role. Harry Melling plays Merrick, the villain of the film, and although the character is a basic tech-guru villain he does well to sell the fact that he’s a dick.
In the end, The Old Guard really surprised me with how much effort it put into forming a great story with strong characters set in a world with a rich and exciting history. The action is there, and it’s great, but the way it sets up the world makes me want to see a whole franchise out of this film, where if it was just an action flick, I probably wouldn’t. Based on the whole immortality aspect, I would love to see a prequel set hundreds of years in the past as you could keep the same actors and not have to re-cast and re-introduce them. This is a very worthwhile watch for anyone who wants a solid action film, with a great cast and an engaging story.