The Old Guard (2022)

Rating: **
Review Date: 4/10/23
Written By: Greg Rucka
Cast: Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Harry Melling, cameo by Veronica Ngo

"The world can burn for all I care."

A disappointingly dumb riff on "Highlander" (1986) that features a group of immortal mercenaries led by a disillusioned and tough-as-nails Charlize Theron. As technology continues to pervade the modern world, it becomes harder for them to remain unseen, and an evil pharmaceutical villain (Harry Melling) sees it as his duty to learn their biological secrets, even if it means chopping them into little pieces. Naturally, this doesn't sit well with Andy (Charlize Theron) and her team. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan another immortal awakens in the form of US Marine Nile Freeman (Kiki Layne), and Andy has to get to her before the military locks her away as a test subject. Let's just say that Nile is less than thrilled to accept her new existence.

Continuing to hone her action persona, Charlize Theron delivers a solid performance with some impressive stunt work. Unfortunately, her character is totally unlikable and not particularly attractive. She doesn't have the right complexion to pull off being a brunette, and her androgynous hairstyle doesn't help. The other members of her team are more likable, but totally uninteresting, so it's hard to identify with them, either. Nile is the only sympathetic character in the cast, and Kiki Layne does a wonderful job of expressing her pain and frustration. But acceptance takes a long time, and the majority of the film is dragged down by her disbelief and adversarial relationship with Andy.

Pacing is a serious problem, and thirty minutes into the film I was already looking for the fast-forward button. The film is also two hours long, so it's a real slog to get through. Most of it revolves around Andy brooding and being generally unpleasant, while her loyal soldiers do her bidding without question. Only towards the end does she start to soften up a bit and allow the audience to care about her. The action scenes are nicely staged, but chaotic editing makes them hard to follow. The gunplay is noteworthy, and the close quarters combat feels like it was inspired by "John Wick" (2014). For better or worse, the villain is so laughably and irredeemably evil that you can't wait to see him die. The story suffers from plot holes and lapses in logic that are difficult to ignore, and the regrettable soundtrack is grating. The predictable post-credits scene is also pretentious and insulting, existing only to set up a sequel that will never happen. Even with two strong female leads (and a criminally underutilized Veronica Ngo), I found the film to be a serious letdown and a chore to watch.