Del and Mladen review ‘The Old Guard’

Image courtesy of Netflix.

“The Old Guard” Starring Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthais Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Netflix. 125 minutes. Rated R.

Del’s take

I predict Mladen will love this movie.

He’ll give it 17 stars, an A to the nth power and at least one second watch, maybe two.

He’ll rhapsodize about the gore, the “Matrix”-esque firepower, the jaw-dislocating fight scenes, the insurance-adjusting destruction, and the fact that it stars Charlize Theron, who is developing quite the reputation as a badass rock ’em sock ’em fighter chick who can hang with The Road Warrior and now the semi-immortal do-gooders of “The Old Guard.”

And for once he won’t be wrong, for the most part, though I am going to skip the rant where he goes into the Dolby SurroundSound decibel whatevers.

“The Old Guard” is a Euro-sleek production that gives off more of a socially glib James Bond vibe than any “Atomic Blonde” or “Salt.” These globe-trotting polyglot martial artists who can strangle a mercenary wearing body armor while parsing a slab of baklava with their taste buds might just be the new thing, if Netflix plays its cards right, and clearly it intends to try – the movie is set up as Entry No. 1 of a franchise.

The story is based on the Greg Rucka-Leandro Fernandez comic book from Image: Some people, like Rob Lowe, are born with an inability to die. Shoot ’em, stab ’em, toss ’em in front of a Freightliner and a minute later they pick themselves up, dust off the tire tracks and carry on, their hair slightly out of place. The band of immortals in “The Old Guard” has taken crime-fighting as its joie de vivre. At least they’re not running for office.

After thousands of years the immortals have, shall we say, developed a fighting skills set second to none. Even if they weren’t immune to your bullets, they could stomp your ass with ease. And that’s what this movie is about – stomping ass, in this case an evil big pharma company (is “evil” redundant when coupled with “big pharma”?) that wants the secret to their longevity.

It all works, and it works well. I had no problem with suspension of belief, and that’s something I struggle with every single time I watch a superhero movie. Acting was spot-on, although Harry Melling’s Merrick, the big pharma chieftain, drifted into the fringes of self-caricature. Pacing was brisk with the occasional infodump that lowered the octane of carnage, and the characters were well-developed, spoke intelligent (sometimes funny) lines and otherwise provided a level of empathy that rendered them as human beings, not comic book cannon fodder.

The quality of Netflix movies is improving to the point the streaming service is as legitimate a moviemaker as any brick-and-mortar studio. “Bird Box,” “Extraction” and now “The Old Guard” are entertaining movies available to anybody with a subscription. You must, however, provide your own buttered popcorn.

The movie is rated R, which should salve Mladen’s fragile, French soap-scented movie-watching ego, and it comes with enough shell casings to earn you a profitable trip to a dopamine addiction treatment facility.

I give it an A-.

Mladen’s take

I’d disagree with Del’s prediction about me “loving” this film, but I don’t want to hurt his fragile feelings.

“The Old Guard” is solid action fare based on the principle that immortality has an expiration date. An A-, though? I think not. Let’s go with a straight-up B and the recommendation that you see this film. And, as an aside, Del’s description of Charlize Theron should’ve included “really good-looking,” maybe before “badass.”

The justification for the B is that there are moments when the movie slides toward morose. It’s Theron’s fault. She portrays the character Andy. Old Guard leader Andy is wracked by the obvious, which should’ve been even more obvious to her because she’s, like, hundreds of years old. You see, Andy, now a 21st century denizen has started asking the question, “Is mankind worth saving?” Sheesh, Mankind has been unworthy of existing since we descended from the trees and started walking the plains.

So, the strategic problem with “The Old Guard” is that it needed justification for the mercenary ways of the troop of semi-immortals, recently joined by KiKi Layne’s Nile. That justification, alluded to above, is banal: the Guard sprays limited-spectrum helpfulness adjuvanted with the hope that humanity deserves salvation despite the overwhelming fratricide it practices day in, day out. The Guard exists to fumigate dickheads modeled on assholes such as Bashar al-Assad and Donald Moron Trump, but is sidetracked by the amoral Big Pharma nerd mentioned by Del. The nerd reminded me of real-life “Pharma Bro.” Remember Martin Shkreli? He raised the price of an antiparasite drug 5,000 percent. Who tends to suffer from parasitic infections, say, malaria? Uh huh, the poor. Did upping the price of Daraprim make it more affordable for them or the nonprofits helping them? No. But, would have whacking Shkreli made a difference for mankind? No, because along came another Big Pharma executive, this one female, to hyperinflate the price of antihistamine auto injectors, i.e., the life-saving product known generically as an “epi-pen.”

I agree with my fellow co-reviewer. The characters in The Old Guard are nicely developed. They have on-air chemistry. They’re the socially acceptable mix of female and male, heterosexual and homosexual, and race. There’s a neat ambiguous betrayal, too. At the end of the movie in preparation for The Old Guard Chapter Two, an important-to-be partial-immortal of Asian ethnicity is introduced. Her entrance is laced with portent.

Also pluses are the film’s allusions to real-world grotesqueness: the use of chemical weapons on luckless people, the kidnapping of children by fundamentalists, and the aforementioned Big Pharma sleaziness. The movie’s locales are stark such as desert or claustrophobic such as heavy urbanization. The Guard moves about by bartering deals with lower-level scumbags. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do to get to the higher-level scumbags.

And, yes, there’s the violence. It’s a nice mix of hand-to-hand, blade, and bullet peppered with an occasional explosion. The more speakers you’re AVR is driving during the film, the better.         

From a production standpoint, “The Old Guard” clearly demonstrates the way streaming has changed moviemaking. Films have become a global enterprise. One wonders who’s financing them. I hope that by enjoying “The Old Guard” I didn’t indirectly make Putin, Xi, or the petty tyrants running places like Singapore or East Europe richer. Who knows? Maybe Putin or Xi knockoffs are on the list of muthers who are eradicated by our band of benevolent PMCs in the next film of the now nicely rooted franchise.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.


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