The new action movie from Netflix, The Old Guard, opens with brass casings raining down to join the four, bullet-punctured bodies lying broken on the cement floor. Voiceover narration from one of the victims says, “I’ve been here before. Over and over again. And each time the same question. Is this it? Will this time be the one? And each time the same answer. And I’m just so tired of it.”
Charlize Theron plays Andy, leader of a group of immortal mercenaries, who is so old she’s been worshiped as a goddess and hanged for being a witch. While all living things eventually die, she and her team keep pushing out the bullets, reknitting the broken bones, and closing the fatal wounds to come back and fight another day. For now.
After a job gone wrong, Andy and the three men on her team go to ground. Booker (Mathias Schoenaerts) still grieves for the sons he outlived centuries ago in France. Nicky and Joe (Luca Marinelli and Marwan Kenzari, respectively), who met fighting on opposite sides during the Crusades, find joy and comfort in one another. Meanwhile, in the Middle East a young Marine, Nile (KiKi Layne) has her throat slashed and gets better. The same magic that makes them immortal sends out a psychic beacon between the old guard and the new recruit.
The team splits up: Andy to bring Nile into the fold, while the others work to figure out who set them up and why. Though not without a few twists, it’s neither a spoiler nor a surprise that ultimately the villains are the CIA agent (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a young pharmaceutical mogul (Harry Melling), who want to unlock the secret of everlasting life. What they don’t realize is that like the battery in a cell phone, even an immortal can only come back from the dead so many times.
Movies, including stupid action flicks, are good for asking “What if?” We know, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, that in real life we only die once and then there will be our final judgment, but what if there were people out there who got to die many times? The Old Guard offers humanistic optimism that while it would be a lonely existence, eventually people would become enlightened and act for the greater good. “Given enough time and chances,” the filmmakers seem to suggest, “eventually we could save ourselves.”
Back in reality, we can again turn to Hebrews and its promise that Christ will appear a second time, “not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
While the four-letter-words don’t fly quite as freely as the bullets and severed limbs in The Old Guard, this comic-book based movie is more John Wick than Captain Marvel. Action movie aficionados will appreciate the choreography, but the pacing of the story is without similar grace. (Netflix)