Has there been a more definitive star in Hollywood over the last decade than Charlize Theron? She of the alcoholic ghost writer in Young Adult , the distressed pregnant mother in Tully , a newscaster dealing with sexual harassment in Bombshell , and the most magnificent of them all, Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. All these roles in the 2010s — plus others (box-office successes like Snow White and the Huntsman, Atomic Blonde and Long Shot ) — should make her a coveted figure; one that filmmakers regularly hound for Oscar-bait.
Yet, Theron’s career graph, amongst a string of her greatest hits, is also dotted with films like her latest release, The Old Guard , which just don’t seem worthy for a performer of her considerable talents. It’s not that these films are bad — the Netflix superhero origin flick is in fact, eminently watchable — it’s just that Theron is so much better than everything and everyone else around her.
On to the plot then, which is adapted from DC Comics writer Greg Rucka’s graphic novel series of the same title, and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, whose astonishing debut Love and Basketball from 20 years ago still resonates with viewers today.
Theron plays another archetypal badass called Andy, short hair and brooding complexion to boot, who is technically Andromache of Scythia, an immortal warrior, who has survived for over 6,000 years fighting thousands of battles, along with her crew of similarly undying mercenaries: Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli).
But it’s not regular wham-bam action film fare; Andy is weighed down by centuries of trauma and baggage from all the times she’s killed — and been killed — while she continues to lead her men into warfare, pondering their existence. Joe and Nicky, on the other hand, are a gay couple who have been in love since they met during the Crusades (the fact that their romance blossomed while they repeatedly killed each other is a delightful side-note) and adds a genuine aspect of representation and emotional subtext to proceedings.
- Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
- Cast: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Matthias Schoenaerts, Harry Melling and Chiwetel Ejiofor
- Runtime: 124 minutes
- Storyline: A group of for-hire immortal mercenaries have their secret discovered, and have to stop a powerful enemy from harvesting their DNA
Their nameless unit — they don’t go by anything fancy like The Avengers — are essentially for-hire soldiers who aren’t always on the right side of the law and will do whatever it takes to survive. While they can’t die, the mercenaries don’t possess any other superhuman traits and still feel pain just like the rest of us when shot or stabbed, atleast until their wounds recover.
And this is when Andy and the gang face two developments that derail their lives as they know it. First, a new addition to their ranks in USMC officer Nile Freeman, essayed by KiKi Layne (from Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk ), who discovers she is also immortal after being killed and waking up again. Nile is thrust under the unlikely mentorship of Andy, even as she comes to realise what/ who she has become while dealing with the loss of her family. Layne steals the show even from Theron, as the two strike up a friendship (sisterhood?) as they face their most dangerous adversary yet: Harry Potter ’s Dudley Dursely.
Not kidding. Harry Melling, who played Potter’s dawdling cousin in the movie franchise, is now all grown-up, and definitely retains the same maniacal super-villain look he had about him while locking up an 11-year-old in the cupboard under the stairs. Here, he plays corporate kingpin Merrick, who is wise to The Old Guard’s immortal ways, and wants to capture them and harvest their DNA for his own sizable profits.
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Along the way is also former CIA agent Copley (a wasted Chiwetel Ejiofor) who’s been tracking the mercenaries for years and does more harm than good to their ultimate mission, as the film, which gravitates across Africa, Asia and Europe rather stunningly — death-defying stunts and combat sequences all in place — sets up the possibility of a sequel and ongoing franchise to come.
But at the centre of it all is Charlize Theron, who yells, grunts and showcases her full range of action star-histrionics to the hilt, while also reminding us just how special she is in scenes like the one where she tries to figure out where a piece of baklava is from.
They don’t make ‘em quite like her anymore.
The Old Guard streams from July 10 on Netflix