If Ridley Scott had made Only Lovers Left Alive, it might have looked something like The Old Guard. Based on the graphic novels by Greg Rucka (who also wrote the script), the movie follows a band of immortal warriors who are trying to defend the powerless from the power-hungry in the tangled mess that is 21st-century geopolitics. Although they win their battles, they’re increasingly exhausted that centuries of such efforts have had little lasting effect.
Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights) directs, and while she might not quite have Scott’s sheen, she still brings a syrupy, sunlit aesthetic to the film that counters the mostly morose story. Charlize Theron stars as Andy, the leader—and oldest member—of these warriors. After their immortality is discovered during a job gone wrong, she and the three others in her crew find themselves on the run from a militant pharmaceutical company that wants to steal their DNA. At the same time, they learn of a new immortal: an American marine named Nile (KiKi Layne, of If Beale Street Could Talk) who initially wants no part of their secret society.
Theron is no stranger to action, and she’s a force on screen here—precise and powerful in her movements. Prince-Bythewood and the fight choreographers stage a pummeling fist fight between Andy and Nile on an airborne military plane that’s bruising and balletic, with the wild card of turbulence adding to the excitement. Outside of the action scenes, however, Theron is fairly glum. She and her teammates share many, many sad conversations about the futility of their actions and how difficult it has been to be alive so long. Eventually a fatalistic torpor settles over the film, even during the increasingly gun-heavy action scenes. For all its early intoxication, The Old Guard has an aftertaste that’s deadening.