Cliché-filled ‘The Old Guard’ packs intense action with unique superheroes

From left, Marwan Kenzari, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlize Theron, Luca Marinelli and KiKi Layne appear in “The Old Guard.”

There’s no doubt the biggest movies in the world for the past two decades have been the superhero ones based on the likes of Marvel and DC Comics, but there have been other comic-inspired films that were big hits, such as “Kingsmen” and “Men in Black.”

Unfortunately, the less popular titles tend to have less good movies, and although they garner quite a solid cult fan base, underappreciated comic book movies tend to be shrugged off if not totally forgotten about after a couple of years.

While I quite enjoyed its interesting ideas and fun action sequences, this will probably be the fate of “The Old Guard,” a superhero film released on Netflix last weekend based on the graphic novel series of the same name written by Greg Rucka, who also wrote the screenplay.

The best thing this movie has going for it is Charlize Theron in the lead role, continuing to impress as a hardened and relentless figure in action movies. From the greatness of “Mad Max: Fury Road” to the mediocre “Atomic Blonde,” anytime Theron is kicking butt and taking names, I’m on board for it.

Whether it’s from bad timing with the pandemic, an unfocused adaptation or just not a great story to begin with, “The Old Guard” can’t seem to deliver on the promise from its unique set-up. There are great action scenes, wonderful character moments and even a compelling concept, but it’s all buried under an action movie filled with clichés and no clear, coherent vision.

Led by an ancient warrior named Andy (played by Theron), a covert group of tight-knit mercenaries with a mysterious ability to heal from any wound has fought to protect the mortal world for centuries.

Now, for the first time in 200 years, a new recruit is about to join their ranks in the form of Nile (Kiki Layne), a former US soldier who is taken in by the group after she comes back to life, and she isn’t too thrilled about her new circumstances and the loss of her old life.

But when the team is recruited to take on an emergency mission and their extraordinary abilities are suddenly exposed, it’s up to Andy and Nile to help the group eliminate the threat of a billion-dollar pharmaceutical company seeking to enslave them and monetize their power by any means necessary.

Because the screenplay comes from the comic’s writer, I hope the movie was faithful to its fans and included a lot of Easter eggs and other references, because the script is not great. Many story beats and situations are clichéd action tropes by this point, but thankfully they are pulled off well by a great cast, led by Theron delivering some heavy material about love and loss and how living for hundreds of years is no picnic.

Maybe it’s because you can do so much more in a graphic novel series than one movie, but several characters don’t get enough personal growth and backstory exploration even though it’s hinted at in earlier scenes. It’ a shame, because the backstories and flashbacks to some of these characters from hundreds of years ago are interesting and effective.

Thankfully, there is still action sequences that are good fun, taking full advantage of this movie’s R rating in some instances, particularly when it comes to make-up. Because these beings can’t die and slowly reheal after being attacked, the images of deep slashes or bullet wounds use incredible make-up work and blend so well with the CGI used to show them healing. Combine that with action scenes of Theron swinging an ancient ax into bad-guy torsos and it gets intense.

The choices the rest of the film makes as far as story, characters and the world-building are concerned will probably vary with each viewer. For example, the history or explanation behind why these people are immortal is never given, and that’s fine. We didn’t originally know what the Force was in “Star Wars” or why Sauron controls the Ring in “Lord of the Rings,” and that’s okay. Let magic be mysterious.

Despite seeing much of what’s in here before in better action movies, I think the direction by Gina Prince-Bythewood, best known for her films “Love & Basketball” and “The Secret Life of Bees,” gives “The Old Guard” a fresh and unique take on the superhero genre. And at the very least, it’s perfect to watch at home on the couch for just a few dollars going to Netflix.

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