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.

Image courtesy of Relativity Media.

“Immortals” Starring Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, John Hurt. Directed by Tarsem Singh. 110 minutes. Rated R.

Del’s take

OK, Mom and Dad. Do not – I repeat, do NOT – take the kiddies to see “Immortals.” If you do, I suggest when you get home you immediately hide the family sledgehammer. Yes, in “Immortals,” somebody does something very bad with a sledgehammer. We’re talking back-alley vasectomy. We wouldn’t want the kiddies getting any ideas.

You might also want to hide the kitchen knives, any random chains you’ve got hanging around, pikes, swords – heck, just hide everything. Or better, do NOT take the kiddies to see “Immortals.”

Because it’s a bloodbath – an empty, silly, thoroughly predictable yet exquisitely choreographed bloodbath. Take strawberries, tomatoes, cherry Jell-O, berry-flavored Kool-Aid, and dump them into a blender. Leave the top off and hit the “on” button. That’ll give you a visceral preview of “Immortals.” Oh, and you get to clean up the mess.

In “Immortals,” the gods have won their war against the Titans, imprisoning them within a mountain. But a power-mad human king, Hyperion (played with vicious gusto by Mickey Rourke) decides he must have a WMD, something called the Epirus Bow, with which he may free the Titans and rain destruction on all of Greece. The gods are bound by law not to interfere in the matters of men (probably a part of Obama’s health care plan), but Zeus (Luke Evans/John Hurt) has been secretly preparing a human peasant, Theseus (Henry Cavill), to lead the Greeks to triumph over Hyperion. When Hyperion’s men slay Theseus’ mother, and Theseus encounters a virgin vision-seer (Freida Pinto, who doesn’t remain a virgin very long – oops, spoiler alert!) who sees his role in the upcoming battle, Theseus embarks on a bloody quest to avenge his mother’s death and make the world safe for Democrats. OK, maybe that’s stretching it.

If you go into “Immortals” expecting any kind of high-concept art, you’ll be disappointed. It is not “Being There” or “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Heck, it’s not even “Star Wars.”

Or maybe it is. What separates “Immortals” from movies like, say, “Transformers,” is that it does have a plot, albeit a predictable plot sans any pleasant surprises along the way. Director Tarsem has constructed a visual machine that performs its work with the ritual synchronicity of an assembly line at a Ford plant.

It also has lots and lots of flesh – pretty boys with perfectly sculpted abs and luscious women whose attributes, be they God-given or enhanced by prosthetics, suggest that life in the B.C. days had definite virtues.

But it’s the fight scenes in “Immortals” that make the movie worth seeing. If you thought Jet Lee, the Wachowski brothers and Quentin Tarrantino had mined that vein for all it’s worth, think again. “Immortals” carries the movie fight scene to an unprecedented and bloody apex, giving the viewer a slow-mo entrée to a feast of exploding heads, cartwheeling body parts and severed torsos, all of it presented in breathtaking operatic melodrama.

I recommend seeing it in 2D. The 3D version contributes practically nothing to the viewing experience.

“Immortals” is not for the squeamish. It’s not for the thoughtful moviegoer.

But if you’re looking for nearly two hours of escapist fun – and you’re not warping your children’s minds – you’ll enjoy “Immortals.”

Out of 10 stars I give it seven.

Mladen’s take

The film “Immortals” starts with a vision by a soon-to-be defrocked virgin oracle and ends with her glimpse of the future coming true. Between, the movie is filled with slick scenes of slaughter that only an R rating permits.

Immortals is loosely based on Greek mythology.

Gods, led by father Zeus and fearful of another internecine war with Titans, hope that a mortal becomes their savior. Theseus, portrayed by Henry Cavill, is nudged by fate and faith to fight against Hyperion, played by Mickey Rourke. Hyperion, a commander of vast legions, wants to free Titans to avenge cruelties that he and his family endured because Gods refused to intervene on their behalf. But, before Hyperion can achieve his desire, he has to fight Hellenes, and Theseus, defending the mountain where Titans are imprisoned.

As the heroes – Theseus and Gods – and antiheroes – Hyperion and Titans – edge closer to battle, Immortals tries to teach us lessons.

Theseus and his mother are peasants and abused by prominent members of the cliffside village where they live, so there’s a subtheme of class warfare.

Theseus, an unbeliever at the beginning of the movie, transforms into a man of faith. Hyperion, once a believer in Gods, scorns them. Guess which one survives the epic hand-to-hand combat at Immortal’s end? So, we are taught that those who bow to the will of Gods prevail and those who fail to genuflect, die. What crap.

Morals aren’t the strength of Immortals, but, I suppose, something had to be devised to bundle the movie’s virtue: gorgeous, stylized carnage.

Theseus sweeps through squads of Hyperion’s men with ballet-like precision, puncturing abdomens and heads with spears, slicing necks with swords, and, once, blasting them with electromagnetic arrows of the Epirus bow.

Though the peasant warrior’s magic with all objects sharp and pointy was impressive, nothing compared to the vivid gore that enveloped the screen when Gods or Titans warred. I’ll stop here to keep from spoiling the scenes, but wait until you see god Aries dispatch a half-dozen of Hyperion’s men in slow motion about halfway through the movie. The battle between Gods, who dress like sissies, and Titans, who look like corpuscular ash, is absolutely luscious.

Del and I saw Immortals in 3-D, though it isn’t necessary to enjoy the movie. The cinematography is bright enough, I suspect, to make Immortals very watchable in just plain 2-D, as long as the theater packs a good sound system.

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