Meet Andy and the squad of The Old Guard.

The Old Guard

Dept. of Awakenings and Quickenings


The best literary adaptations are the ones that feel the most familiar. Consider, for a moment, The Lord of the Rings. At which point did you realise that Tom Bombadil was missing? Did you even notice that Elrond’s sons, Elrohir and Elladan, were nowhere near Aragorn as he makes his way through the Paths of the Dead? More often than not, what we’re looking for isn’t a slavish remake, but a spirited translation. What we want is something that makes us feel the same way we did when we first read the books.

What Peter Jackson did was take Tolkien’s epic fantasy, strip it to its core, distil its message, find its most memorable moments, and use it to craft an 11 hour adventure of swords and sorcery. It is as close to perfect a literary adaptation there is. And it worked because of Jackson’s abiding love and deep understanding of the source material, as well as an acute awareness as to the strengths and limitations of film. (What the hell went wrong with The Hobbit we’ll never know.)

Meet the squad from Netflix's The Old Guard.

The Old Guard is a 124 minute masterclass on how to adapt a comic book. Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Secret Life of Bees, Love & Basketball) is very much the antithesis of Zack Snyder. She is faithful but not slavish. Successfully capturing key comic book moments and bringing them to life, without ever sacrificing character or motive. She is style and substance.

She shot this off a screenplay by Greg Rucka, who has very carefully transformed the comic books that he co-created with Leandro Fernandez into an incredibly exciting franchise starter. One that blends tried and tested comic book tropes with the pace and momentum of an action movie.

What makes this even more of an interesting exercise, however, is how Rucka was able to take a second pass at his own work, giving greater depth and new life to his characters. It’s not often that a writer is given the chance to fix previous oversights, and Rucka has made some choice decisions that better serve both the story and the medium. (I won’t give away what those are, because spoilers.)

Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli star in Netflix's The Old Guard.

The Old Guard revolves around an incredibly catchy hook. What if there were a group of warriors who seemingly can’t die and have spent their existence fighting humanity’s various wars for centuries? What would it mean to have lived countless lives across the many epochs of human history, had innumerable adventures, and to have loved and lost more times than your heart could possibly bear? Does it make you more, or less human? What happens if your secret is suddenly discovered?

The catch is that The Old Guard – which consist of Andy (Charlize Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kanzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) – aren’t really immortal. They can die. It’s just that they have no idea how, or even when, their time will eventually run out. It is a twist in the tale that allows for the story to have a Looney Tunes approach to death and violence while still maintaining a sense of peril. It allows for the movie to still have stakes.

The story here kicks off when the squad, who haven’t seen another like them in a very long time, suddenly encounter Nile (KiKi Layne), a young soldier who discovers that she too can come back from the dead. What follows is an interesting take on the superhero origin story. One that begins in media res before proceeding to develop in refreshingly unexpected ways.

Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne star in The Old Guard.

If there’s one thing you can rely on, it’s Greg Rucka’s ability to write complex and charismatic women. (See: Stumptown, Gotham Central, Queen & Country.) In Charlize Theron’s Andy, what you get is a protagonist who is fully realised. As someone who has seen civilisations rise and fall, she is cranky, she is jaded, and when we first meet her, she is all but ready for her unnatural life to be over. She’s been around for so long that she’s beginning to feel like she lacks purpose.

Theron is, as always, an absolute delight to watch and is completely believable as the world weary warrior. But what makes her character – and this movie – work, is the layered menagerie of supporting players that Rucka has created in order to add depth and substance to her backstory.

KiKi Layne is magnetic as Nile. Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kanzari, and Luca Marinelli are an absolute blast, providing humour and pathos in equal measure. And Chiwetel Ejiofor is here to do what he does best: deliver a great speech.

Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne star in The Old Guard.

And then there is the action. Which is a veritable ballet of brutality. Andy and her team work together like a well oiled machine. They move as one, anticipating each other’s actions, while meticulously and methodically taking out their enemies. These moments are perfectly plotted and masterfully choreographed. They play out exactly as you’d expect from a group of individuals who have spent hundreds of lifetimes killing together.

There is a throughline from John Wick, to Extraction, to The Old Guard. Any filmmaker looking to make an actioner today needs to look at these three movies as benchmarks, where every action set piece is driven by character as opposed to cinematic technique. (I think we can now all agree that Paul Greengrass is the only one who can properly pull off the shaky cam.)

Chiwetel Ejiofor is Copley in The Old Guard.

It is no secret that Netflix has been looking for a big feature film franchise. Something they can build and spin-off. Something that will bring back existing viewers as well as grow their audience over time. And while they’ve done incredibly well on that front with serialised television (shows like Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and The Witcher have very quickly become pop-culture touchstones), they haven’t had much luck with features. Bright was a dud. And it remains to be seen what they end up doing with Michael Bay’s 6 Underground.

With The Old Guard, Netflix might just have stumbled upon the cult comic book that could. A balls to the wall actioner, that’s centred around two kick-ass women, and where the love story is between two gay immortals. One with plenty of prequel and sequel potential, that’s plenty of fun, and just about different enough to be exciting.

I loved this movie. And as soon as those credits started rolling, I knew I wanted a sequel. Which is where every good franchise starter should leave you: gagging for more.

The Old Guard
124 minutes
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Writer: Greg Rucka
Cast: Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Harry Melling, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kanzari, Luca Marinelli, and Veronica Ngo.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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