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04th Jul 2020

REVIEW: The Old Guard feels like a 90’s superhero movie, but not in a good way

Sarah Finnan

The Old Guard, a new superhero movie starring Charlize Theron, will be available to stream on Netflix on July 10th and Rory Cashin is here to give you the lowdown…

Netflix has an action movie problem. There are some genres they’ve managed to nail down perfectly (must-watch documentaries, Oscar-bait dramas, they’ve even helped bring back the rom-com to some extent), but they’ve yet to properly stick the landing on big-budget action thrillers. Some you may not even have heard of, like Polar or Point Blank, while others have made a big splash upon arrival only to get quickly forgotten about, like 6 Underground or Spenser Confidential. To date, they’ve only really had one “successful” action movie, as in a movie that critics and general viewers enjoyed enough to want to see a sequel, and that was Chris Hemsworth’s propulsive thriller Extraction.

We’re sorry to say that The Old Guard is unlikely to sit alongside that movie, as it is difficult to imagine anyone wanting to see more from this world, despite the fact that it sets itself up so strongly to be the first in a new proposed superhero franchise.

The elevator pitch is strong enough: Charlize Theron is the leader of a group of immortal humans who are hired by government agencies around the world to solve problems that require their specific skill set. However, when one particular government agent (Chiwetel Ejifor) double-crosses them, they find themselves the targets for an ultra-hateable pharmaceutical company owner (Harry Melling, aka Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter) who wants to use their DNA to extend human life.

Right around this time, Theron is also made aware of a potential new immortal recruit (KiKi Layne, great in If Beale Street Could Talk, not great here), who was killed in action on a military mission in Afghanistan, only to wake up fully healed from a slit throat and no idea why.

So we’ve got a lot going on, and the movie spends a lot of its time trying to explain it all to us. We’re given some brief glimpses of Theron’s time as an immortal through literally thousands of years alive on the planet, and each one of those glimpses is infinitely more interesting than the point in her life that this movie has decided to focus on. We’re told that this group of immortals have helped save countless people who have all gone on to improve the world in some way (quite how they knew that these people would prove to be important, the movie fails to tell us about), but it is a neat concept. Kind of like Highlander meets Logan meets John Wick… but it is so painfully obvious that the production simply didn’t have the budget to see that idea through properly.

The entire film looks like a cheap TV movie, only somewhat aided by Theron’s steely resolve and a handful of average hand-to-hand combat scenes. We know that Theron can do action and do it well, after Fury Road and Atomic Blonde and the Fast & Furious movies, but she usually has a better nose for quality than this.

Do you remember the run of 90’s superhero movies? We’re not talking the very few that managed to get it right, like Blade or Batman Returns. No, we’re talking about The Phantom, or The Shadow, or Spawn, or even Judge Dredd. Movies that spent too much time explaining their worlds, so convinced that it would be enough to entice audiences back for a more expensive, more action-packed sequel that would never arrive. That is what The Old Guard is, a great idea let down by too much telling and not enough showing.

The Old Guard is available to watch exclusively on Netflix from Friday 10 July.

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