"The Old Guard" (film streaming on Netflix)
Cast: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, Harry Melling, Anamaria Marinca, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Direction: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Rating: * * * (three stars)
By Vinayak Chakravorty
It must be boring after a while, the idea of being immortal. You are sprayed with bullets and you spring back to life and continue living, no options there. You could mull jumping off a plane without a parachute because you know life will go on after you hit the ground loud and hard, broken bones mending themselves within minutes. Seriously, what could possibly keep you interested in life a few thousand years down the line, considering you have been soaked in gore and mayhem since the Crusades? In "The Old Guard", Charlize Theron and her bunch of trigger-happy cronies are immortal mercenaries, which means they don't die under any circumstance. The fact is demonstrated early on, when they are riddled with bullets by a group of shooters in an ambush. Even as the wounds are filling, they are already back on their feet and gunning down their attackers.
Yeah, right. Deadpool has roughly been doing that sort of a thing over two films now. With some humour, too.
In contrast, Theron and her bunch make for dour company. Maybe they were miffed carrying on with a life that never ends. Or maybe, they were just trying to add some swag to the uber-violent drama with a rugged, action hero image.
In form and idea, "The Old Guard" would remind you of genre films of the nineties that mixed stock sci-fi concept with hardcore guerilla violence to churn out loud entertainment.
Where director Gina Prince-Bythewood adds an interesting spin to her film is in the way she humanises these superheroes who simply will not die. As they are randomly shot, stabbed, maimed and wounded, a key character stresses on their helplessness at one point: "Just because we keep living, it doesn't mean we stop hurting." Prince-Bythewood also does a good enough job with the film's underlying motive of addressing new-age corporate greed. The idea may be old as the hills (or as old as the immortals, if you wish) and the execution predictable, but the director sets up a certain irreverence in the way she narrates her film.
Based on Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez's comicbook of the same name, "The Old Guard" casts Theron as Andy, leader of a group of mercenary fighters who are equipped with an ability that lets them survive mortal wounds. That team, which is centuries old in age but looks like a bunch of young fighters, is recruited for an important mission that turns out to be a set-up, as the film opens. This, in turn, leaves their superpower exposed.
When Andy meets Nile (Kiki Layne), a young girl who reveals immortal traits, she is quick to rope in the latter in the group. Meanwhile, the ruthless corporate bigwig Merrick (Harry Melling) is after the group, because he realises their DNA could hold the key to making millions.
Gina Prince-Bythewood's resume as a director so far has been about modest content-driven relationship stories ("The Secret Life Of Bees", "Love & Basketball", "Beyond The Lights"). Her new film marks a dramatic entry into hardcore mainstream action zone. In "The Old Guard", Prince-Bythewood blends the quota of violence with larger-than-life drama in a way she has never done before. Clearly, she was enjoying her genre crossover.
Going by the sheer impact that the film leaves, this one looks quite likely to spawn a franchise. Only, the next time we would love to see something unconventional about the story being hawked, rather than predictable fare being dished out with polish and punch. And yes, a big screen release for this sort of an entertainer wouldn't be a bad idea.
(Vinayak Chakravorty can be reached at email@example.com)
-- Syndicated from IANS