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The Deepest Cuts Are Healed By Faith

The Old Guard

By Gina Prince-Bythewood & Greg Rucka 

16 Jul, 2020

Miscellaneous Reviews


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2020’s The Old Guard was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Greg Rucka, who also wrote the comic book of the same name (the film is based on the comic). The film stars Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari, Luca Marinelli, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The promising career of American Marine Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne) comes to a sudden and tragic end when the wounded Afghan insurgent whose life she is attempting to save [1] slits her throat. Nile bleeds to death in moments; her demise is a grim lesson in the cost of inattention.

Much to Nile’s surprise, and the surprise of those around her, this is not the end of her story.

Millennia ago, Andromache (“Andy”) of Scythia discovered she had a useful quirk: profound powers of regeneration. Strike her down and she will come back to life. This gives her a considerable edge in combat, the field to which she has devoted her long, long life. She is not the only warrior with this gift. Thanks to the psychic link they share, she has gathered other immortal warriors to fight alongside her: Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) [2]. Together, they stab people for truth, justice, and … Well, let’s stop there. 

Andy and her friends use their abilities to help the helpless. Aware from bitter experience that mortals tend to react badly when they discover that the immortals cannot be killed, they are very selective about the jobs they accept. Rule one is never accepting an assignment from the same patron twice, to avoid awkward questions about why they don’t age.

The immortals have worked for retired CIA agent James Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) once before. The assignment he offers — the chance to rescue schoolgirls from guerillas — is too tempting. Andy reluctantly agrees to accept the task and leads her crew into what turns out to be less an opportunity for glorious heroism and more of a trap.

Of course, the immortals survive. Equally of course, the heavily armed mercenaries who ambush them do not. Unfortunately, Copley gets what he wanted from the encounter: video proof of the immortals’ regenerative abilities. Intriguing, but not enough to satisfy Copley’s patron, malevolent CEO Steven Merrick (Harry Melling).

Nile is the latest immortal to discover her gift. As soon as she wakes from death, the other immortals are aware of her. Andy immediately sets off to recruit Nile before the American military takes too close an interest in how a woman whose throat was cut open could shake the experience off without even a scar to show for it. Andy’s ideas of recruiting lean heavily towards kidnapping” but as the plot will show, snatching Nile out from under the noses of the government is probably the best of a number of bad options.

No sooner does Nile get quick lessons in the advantages and disadvantages of her condition from the other immortals than the A plot reappears. More mercenaries appear. They overpower and abduct Joe and Nicky. Now Merrick has two immortals to vivisect until his scientists can discover the secret of their regeneration. It’s up to Andy, Booker, and Nile to find and rescue their missing friends.

Except … Andy has grossly underestimated her enemy’s resources.


This film is clearly intended to be a franchise. If there is a second movie, Van Veronica Ngo’s Quynh [2] better not be its antagonist. 

Gripes and quibbles: Wow, it really sucks to be a mercenary in this movie. Not only are they almost guaranteed to lose, since they’re fighting people for whom lethal wounds are a passing inconvenience, but most of the mercs are anonymous mooks, with whom the audience is encouraged not to identify (face-concealing uniforms). On that note…

Andy spends much of the book frustrated that her efforts do not seem to be improving the world (which raises the question of what metrics a millennia-old Scythian uses to measure social improvements). It’s possible that part of the problem is that she focuses on doling out brutal violence while in god-mode, which might provide her with a very narrow experience of the world. It is also possible she needs a better work-life balance. 

A supporting character manages to convince Andy that her unending carnage has not been in vain, because the person in question has discovered that many of the people who Andy saved had descendants who did great things. Well, people who have descendants can have a lot of them, so it’s not that surprising that Andy has from time to time saved the grandparents or great grandparents or whatever of someone who has contributed to human progress. What the supporting character cannot check is how many of the substantial number of people the immortals massacre would have had noteworthy descendants had they not encountered Andy. 

There isn’t much novel or surprising in this film and it’s a little overlong. But it has been assembled with enormous skill, energy, and just plain verve, by cast and director alike. Worth watching (if that’s the kind of thing you like, of course). 

The Old Guard is available on Netflix. 

1: She’s trying to save him because her superiors want to interrogate him, so if he’s got secrets to protect, taking out his rescuer isn’t a bad move. 

2: Not to mention immortal Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo), who for various reasons does not play an active role in this film.