After 6 Underground and Extraction (opens in new tab), Netflix could use a knockout actioner. Sadly, The Old Guard isn’t it. Even an axe-swinging Charlize Theron struggles to wallop much life – endless or otherwise - into Gina Prince-Bythewood’s comic-book riff, a derivative fantasy-actioner so laggy it puts you right off immortality.
Her sharp-parted black hair stirring memories of an earlier genre misfire, Theron plays weary a little too well as Andromache of Scythia, aka Andy, millennia-old leader of an immortal (mostly…) black-ops posse. Yes, it’s (living for) Aeons Flux. A set-up on a job provides a familiar premise for a payback plot, though complications emerge when another immortal, US Marine Nile (KiKi Layne), is discovered.
The Old Guard peaks with the initial tensions between Andy and Nile, especially when the frost turns fierce for a fight on a plane. Bones snap so hard, even immortals feel the pain. A centuries-old romance between Marwan Kenzari/Luca Marinelli adds welcome heart, though Matthias Schoenaerts, Chiwetel Ejiofor and – bizarrely, given her action experience – Veronica Ngo are variably under-used.
Elsewhere, tonal issues mount. Harry Melling is misused as a villain who seems to belong in a different film, one camper (more fun?) than this self-consciously ‘gritty’ myth-mash. If the direction mistakes flat for grounded, the reflections on immortality’s torments mistake heavy-going for deep. With the potential for historical hijinks squandered between modern-day black-ops clichés and on-the-nose song selections, the results drag harder than the live-free, die-never set-up should. “I’ve been here before,” sighs Theron. Roger that.