Imagine being immortal. Imagine that you have been alive for hundreds of years, perhaps even thousands. Imagine that in the beginning, you took it upon yourself to fight as a crusader of justice. Imagine doing that for thousands of years. Now imagine, how would you feel given today’s political and social climate?
Andy (Charlize Theron) is the leader of an elite and very secret, group of soldiers/mercenaries. They are taking on paramilitary assignments that no one else can or will touch. Her team is made up of a French soldier named Sebastian Le Livre aka Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts) who fought under Napoleon, the Muslim warrior Yusuf Al-Kaysani aka Joe (Marwan Kenzari) who participated in the Crusades, Niccolò di Genova aka Nicky (Luca Marinelli) who not only fought in the crusades but was Yusuf’s enemy. The two of them met their “first” deaths fighting each other. Now they are lovers. Andy herself is Andromache of Scythia.
The team is hired to rescue some students but are set up and shot to death. Unfortunately for their killers, the team quickly heals and dispatches the killers most violently and efficiently. As they make their escape they realize that a new “immortal” has just been added to their numbers. While the 3 men dash off to France Andy finds their newest member, a US Marine named Nile (KiKi Layne) who was killed in the line of duty, only to come back to life (think Connor Mcleod from Highlander). With this newest member, they are on the hunt for the man who sold them out as well as the person who paid handsomely for their capture.
On the surface, this movie does not give any indication of being an urban fantasy. It looks like any military type movie that could have starred Chuck Norris or Steven Segal. However, the tone of the movie changes once their secret is revealed to a slimy pharmaceutical CEO who is after their genetic code for immortality. The movie still doesn’t dwell too much on the immortality aspect rather it chooses to address the human condition of what it must mean to be immortal. Andy has become quite bitter after having lived for so long and not seeing any changes to humanity. Booker, on the other hand, is lonely. He has no one except for his fellow team members. The only exceptions are Joe and Nicky as they now have each other. Nile can’t comment too much except that she hates the hand that has been handed to her. The psychological study that this movie presents regarding what it means to be immortal is a subject that has been discussed endlessly but never is it so painfully on display as it is with these people. If there is one exception to this it is with Joe and Nicky. In one scene where the two have been captured a soldier asks of Joe exactly what does Nicky means to him.
Soldier: What is he? Your boyfriend?
Joe: You’re a child. An infant. Your mocking is thus infantile. He’s not my boyfriend. This man is more to me than you can dream. He’s the moon when I’m lost in darkness and warmth when I shiver in cold. And his kiss still thrills me, even after a millennia. His heart overflows with the kindness of which this world is not worthy. I love this man beyond measure and reason. He’s not my boyfriend. He’s all and he’s more.
To say that this passage moved me to tears is something of an understatement. It’s an affirmation to those of us in the LGBTQ+ community that the love we feel is real. It can only be said that if immortality ever did become a reality that I would want that only if I could share it with my husband, just as Nicky and Joe share it.
The cast for this movie is quite good, starting with Theron as Andy. This Oscar winner has proven that she has some seriously strong acting chops, and she gives Andy the type of gravitas that makes the character believable instead of some caricature who would bore the viewer to death with her endless whining. There is substance to what Andy experiences, even if it is a bit off-target. Layne as Nile is excellent on the other side of that spectrum showing what type of sacrifices she is now forced to make with her new immortal status.
Schoenaerts as Booker has a light playfulness that hides the burden he’s carrying so that when a sudden betrayal is committed by him it delivers a shock that resonates throughout the movie. Kenzari and Marinelli as Joe and Nicky are beautiful together and give their performances the kind of conviction necessary to believe who they are. Even the manner in which Kenzari delivers his speech about his love for Nicky is so real that I forgot I was watching a movie. I truly believed I was listening to one man profess his eternal love and I believed it.
Other performances worthy of mentioning include Chiwetel Ejiofor as ex-CIA agent Copley, who continues to deal with the grief of losing his wife to cancer. Copley could have turned into a cliché character, but Ejiofor’s performance managed to turn Copley from a villain into a sympathetic character who simply made a very bad error in judgment. Lastly, there is Harry Melling as pharmaceutical CEO Merrick. Melling is no stranger to the big screen having been seen by most movie-watchers as Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter franchise. Here Melling delivers a performance of what greed can do to a person, and the performance was more than believable. I sat back and hoped that his character would come to a sticky ending.
The Old Guard was adapted from a 4-issue graphic novel so it is assumed that there are to be sequels. Even the ending of this movie offered two loose threads suggesting that there is more story to tell. In any case, even if there aren’t any more installments down the road, this Netflix original movie is practically a textbook example on how to make an action film. It is equal parts plot and character development, making a truly economical movie-watching experience. There is nothing wasted here. If there is anything negative about this movie it is that the soundtrack was rather dull. Movies of this nature need to have equally inspiring music, and it failed to deliver.
For its outstanding characters (including a loving and openly gay superhero couple) and acting performances, along with a thrilling story, despite a weak soundtrack, I give The Old Guard 4 out of 5 Battle-Axes!