Immortals feeling mortal in an enjoyable fantasy thriller.
The Old Guard
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Secret Life of Bees)
Screenplay: Greg Rucka (Whiteout) based on his graphic novel.
Cast: Charlize Theron (Bombshell), KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Runtime: 1h 58m
By: John DeSando
The engaging super-hero thriller, The Old Guard, is more old fashioned than would appear: The small band of good guys are immortal, harking back to ancient literature that frequently grappled with the idea; the special effects are minimalist to allow more time than usual for character development and deconstructing what it means to be immortal. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood expertly keeps the graphic novel roots from taking over more humanistic motifs and super effects.
Don’t despair over the tropes because Andy (Charlize Theron) is the head immortal who out-blondes her Atomic Blonde with short black hair and several chances to wax philosophical about eternality. Like many ancient gods, she ponders whether or not the price is too much to pay, such as losing everyone you love and never seeming to make a difference in a world bent on self-destruction. She laments, “The world can burn for all I care. I’m done.”
Having been set up to be captured, the band must elude the formidable hunters funded by a James-Bond type baddie, Merrick (Harry Melling), whose company is determined to discover the secret of their immortality. Although he’s a megalomaniac hoodlum, like other crazy autocrats in the real world, he has to be dealt with if civilization is to survive.
The Old Guard is not formulaic throughout: Characters, especially newcomer Nile (Kiki Layne), get an unusual chance to express their reservations about never dying, their lost loves, or whatever. Never should the audience feel these ruminations are extraneous, for each character expresses concerns anyone would have. When immortals Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) recount how they fell in love, there is a sweet feeling that we’re truly in the 21st century.
Beside the low-key lighting and minimalist fights appropriate for the introspective motif, the film’s musical score emphasizes that mood with an exciting mashup of electropop, R &B, vocals, and hip-hop. Couple that ambience with locations from London to Paris, Africa to South Asia, and this seemingly garden-variety thriller becomes an epic treatise on the advances of a civilization still warring but stopping now and then to sample philosophy.
The ending promises a sequel--a form of immortality itself.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com