For a long time now, Netflix has been trying to find what would become its big blockbuster franchise. Over the last few years, we have seen them going out by releasing big-budget action movies like Bright, Triple Frontier, 6 Underground and Extraction just to name a few. While some of then are or will get sequels, none seem to be poised to become Netflix’s franchise that you know they want. After all, summer blockbuster movies are still one of the most lucrative things for Hollywood and when a franchise work, it can prove to go on for a very long time. But when you look at things for Netflix, even with a few viral movies like Birdbox, they just don’t seem to catch the break that they want. Netflix’s most talked-about originals are more often than not their shows or romantic comedies. But with the arrival of The Old Guard, the streaming service might have just found what will be their next big thing. Not only because it is perfect to become a franchise but also because the film also happens to be really good.
I knew nothing about the graphic novel, all I knew was from the trailer and it was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood who directed two of my favourite films Love & Basketball and Beyond The Lights. Starring Charlize Theron with a supporting cast composed of Kiki Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave, Doctor Strange), Matthias Schoenaerts (The Danish Girl, Red Sparrow), Marwan Kenzari (Aladdin, Murder on the Orient Express), Luca Marinelli (Trust, Martin Eden) and Harry Melling (The Harry Potter franchise), The Old Guard might suffer at times from having to follow, not only it’s source material, but also the convention of its subject matter. But even with that, Prince-Bythewood is capable of creating a film that is not only full of action but also a character study that looks into life and the meaning of it all.
The Old Guard tells the story of a group of mercenaries, who also happen to be centuries old immortals, that have to fight for one another. But when a new immortal awakens, they not only have to train her but also try to keep their freedom when a new enemy comes hunting for them in order to replicate their powers. It’s pretty conventional idea, a group of extraordinary people having to fight a big bad who wants their power for their own gain. But what separates The Old Guard from other movies with similar ideas is the way the film is able to go into its character and make them full. For the most part, these are people that have lived for hundreds of years, people that have not only seen a lot but also lived a lot. What is intelligent is the way the film is capable of showing us the two sides. The hopefulness of Joe (Kenzari) and Nicky (Marinelli) versus the cynicism of Andy (Theron) and Booker (Schoenaerts). Yes, the villain, played by Melling, might be really generic and déjà-vue but that doesn’t mean that the movie doesn’t work. Because he is never the center of it, he’s just a means to an end in order to explore the characters and their psyche.
Doing the film as an origin story for Nile (Layne) is intelligent because it forces the other characters to explore their own humanity. These are four characters that have been alive for a long time and not only are they much older than her in terms of life but they are also older than her when it comes to when they discovered their power. Her youth forces them to look at their past and what they have done. We meet them when they are at their lowest, not sure if what they are doing is helping. But putting Nile in the mix and forcing them to face their past and their demons as well as their biggest fear is something that helps the film a lot. It brings it all together makes this more than just another superhero-action film.
The one thing that makes The Old Guard falters is the way it seems so interested in setting up its future more then what is happening at the moment. So many times, we are introduced to ideas that will never be expanded upon but it is kept in a box not to be touched until the sequel. While the main threat is dealt with, the film open ending is frustrating as it just sets up a sequel instead of giving us an ending that is satisfying. Now, that is not to say that I don’t want a sequel. No, I will be looking forward to one, but the none ending of the film gave me frustration. The main villain of the film was never made important but a good portion of this film was made to set up what will probably be the villain of the sequel. While I get that they wanted to establish the world and the lives of the character, this time could have been spent with the villain and make him more than just a regular bad guy that we all know.
The thing about The Old Guard is that everything is there to be a great movie. I’m usually okay with forgiving a lot but the thing is sometimes you can’t overlook its flaws. And that is my main problem with this film. The action is cool, the story interesting, the characters are superb but the way they are trying so hard to establish itself as Netflix’s big franchise just brought me out and I couldn’t overlook it. Is this a good popcorn movie? Yes, but is also a shame that it’s just that because it could have been a lot more if it had just tried to be a movie instead of the beginning of a franchise.