MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
When you base a film on a pre-existing graphic novel, you don’t get to choose the title. The Old Guard sounds like either a movie about a bunch of British aristocrats or the fat guy who keeps people out of a gated community. While both of these ideas sound interesting to me, the concept of the new film starring Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, and an international cast is even more intriguing: It is the origin story about a team of super mercenaries who not only travel around the world to put out fires in a variety of hot spots but do this – over centuries!
You can do this when you are immortals, able to heal yourself after physical trauma. If you’re going to hire a killing machine, find one that others can’t kill. The Old Guard is led by Andromache of Scythia (aka “Andy) (Theron) whose group includes Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), a French soldier who fought under Napoleon; and Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicolo (Luca Marinelli), a Muslim and a Christian who fought on opposing sides during the Crusades.
Now they have become aware of a new immortal coming into awareness. Her name is Nile Freeman (Layne), a US Marine serving in Afghanistan. The first part of this movie involves Nile coming to terms with her special calling and her recruitment into the team. Like Moses and Jonah in the Hebrew scriptures, Nile is reluctant to accept her special gifts, but she comes around. After Nile’s initiation into the gang, they have a major hassle to deal with. That’s Merrick, the evil head of Big Pharma (Harry Melling, who we first met as Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films) who has this idea about monetizing immortality.
There is absolutely nothing revolutionary about the plot of The Old Guard. In fact, there is barely a plotline at all in a film that clocks in at two hours. And the graphic violence and incredible fight scenes will not be to everyone’s taste. But it is in the small details of characterization and the moments of reflection that make this a film with some big ideas to think about, for days after viewing. Why do we keep engaging in armed combat (including religious wars) when nothing seems to advance humanity to higher levels of existence? Would you really want to live forever if everyone you know and love will age and die and leave you alone? What keeps us together and what keeps us apart? To the film’s credit, there are moments of betrayal as well as redemption to remind us that life is filled with surprising reversals of fortune.
The Old Guard is a comic book film with Wizard of Oz virtues: It has a brain, a heart, and courage. I look forward to the sequel (which is brazenly implied at the film’s end).
While I wait for that to happen, I can pitch my obese gatekeeper movie idea to the folks at Amazon Prime. Hopefully I can deliver the goods.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: Come for the comic book ultra-violent action, stay for the stirring meditations on mortality and morality.
Four pitchforks: Extreme gory violence, strong occasional swearing, acts of cruelty and torture.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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