“Is this it?” Charlize Theron asks in voiceover at the start of Netflix action blockbuster The Old Guard, staring glassy-eyed beyond the camera. “I’m just so tired of it.” Honestly, there are times reviewing films when it feels like the script is wilfully encouraging your worst instincts.
But a hatchet job would be too much: the movie is watchable if also set up as one giant trailer for a host of sequels. Actually, that much is worth the criticism. Were it less concerned with a franchised future, a story that spans aeons and half the planet only to end up with Theron in Guildford, mainstay of the London commuter belt, would be a notch or two more fun.
In her introduction, Theron’s Andy is prone and bloodied. Dead, to be frank — at least apparently. A second later, she is alive and emphatically kicking. Therein lies the USP. In this graphic novel adaptation directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, Andy is a humanist mercenary, immortal or something like it, an ancient warrior at large — real name, brace yourself, Andromache of Scythia. She has endured for centuries along with a small band of peers whose goriest wounds heal before our eyes. (As if on a shopping channel, the gift is much demonstrated via gunfire and Sturm und Clang swordplay.)
What makes things tricky is the curse of the modern comic-book film, caught so often between daffy mayhem and self-conscious gloom. Angst beckons even in ripe medieval flashbacks. Heavy is the head that wears the ornate armoured headdress — Andy is now gripped by hundreds of years’ worth of survivor’s guilt. The sheen Prince-Bythewood gives the movie extends to the casting, with Chiwetel Ejiofor as a retired CIA enforcer. His Surrey home is the reason the film winds up in Guildford. By then, in fairness, the budget has also stretched to Paris, Morocco and London.
Yet the film-makers may regret the involvement of Harry Melling as supervillain Merrick, a big pharma pipsqueak played panto broad. Even when sharing scenes, Melling and Theron appear to be in different movies. In fact, the star often seems to still be acting in Mad Max: Fury Road, reprising her signature role as the sombre Furiosa, worn down by man’s inhumanity. There, however, she was at the end of the world. Here, the finale unfolds in sight of a branch of British juice bar chain Crussh, suggesting bloodshed and ennui chased down with an Apple and Carrot Energiser.
On Netflix from Friday July 10
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