Franchise feel undercuts Netfilx’s ‘Old Guard’


“The Old Guard,” Netflix’s latest action-fantasy movie, serves its purpose like an entree at a mid-level chain restaurant. It’s somewhat tasty, and you walk away stuffed, but ultimately the experience leaves something to be desired.

The film, based on the comic-book series of the same name created by screenwriter Greg Rucka, is action-packed and features solid performances throughout led by Charlize Theron as Andy, the leader of an elite and mysterious mercenary unit that specializes in handling jobs too difficult for your garden-variety special forces unit to handle.

If the premise sounds like a refugee from the 1980s, you’re not far off, except, in this age where super-powered characters dominate both television and the big screen, this covert unit has a special quality that sets them apart. Its members are not only practically immortal but also boast regenerative powers that allows them to be shot, stabbed, crushed, gutted — you name it — but heal from the injuries, just like everyone’s favorite X-Men character Wolverine.

The Old Guard has been fighting the mostly good fight for ages, and have become skilled hand-to-hand combatants and proficient with weapons both ancient and modern. Two members go back as far as the Crusades. Another fought with Napoleon, and Theron’s Andy, well, she’s been at it so long that she’s not quite sure how old she is.

The movie lightly deals human mortality. The members of the troop are world-weary, particularly Andy. They can’t enjoy their immortality because any normal human they get close to just gets old and sick and then dies, while the Old Guard’s emotional trauma lives on. The trope will be familiar to anyone who has read much of Anne Rice or Charlene Harris’ work in the vampire genre.

We learn all this because a new immortal has emerged in Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne), a marine who discovers her blessing/curse while on duty in Afghanistan. She has to be trained in the ways of the Old Guard and let in on the secret, but it takes her a little while to fall in line with her fellow immortals.

The Old Guard go to great lengths to protect their secrets, but a grieving ex-CIA agent James Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and evil Pharma CEO Steven Merrick (Harry Melling) conspire to trap, study, and exploit the immortals by harvesting their DNA.

I can’t deny that the movie is entertaining if you enjoy unrealistic action pictures, like I do. The cinematography by Tami Reiker and Barry Ackroyd is at times stunningly effective and crisp, especially in the numerous action sequences.

Theron and Ejiofor are strong as always, and Layne is appealing as the newest member of the mercenary group, but the direction by Gina Prince-Blythewood never allows the production to escape the distinct feeling that this is more of grand TV pilot than a full and engrossing cinematic experience.

Some of that clumsiness must also fall in the lap of Rucka, who clearly wrote the screenplay with a franchise in mind. To his and Prince-Blythewood’s credit, the movie does deliver a beginning, middle, and end, but it still left me feeling a bit empty.

(R) 2 hr. 5 min.
Grade: C

San Diego Comic Con at Home?

One of the biggest events on the pop-culture/entertainment calendar each year is the San Diego Comic Con International.

What began as a reasonably small gathering of comic-book enthusiasts in the basement of a run-down San Diego hotel in 1971 has metamorphosed into the grandest gathering of pop culture fanatics at the blocks-long San Diego Convention Center for a five-day festival that can only be described as nirvana for comic-book, movie, science-fiction, horror, fantasy, toy, and pop-culture fans of almost every ilk.

If you are a movie fan — especially a genre movie fan — San Diego Comic Con is the place to be each July as hosts of talent descend south from Los Angeles to introduce their latest projects to fans who literally camp out on the grounds of the convention center to make sure they can secure a spot in the 6,000-seat Hall H, just to have a chance to breath the same air as some of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

Unfortunately like most other major entertainment events since March, the coronavirus pandemic has put the kibosh on SDCC as it is usually presented, but in lieu of the live event, SDCC organizers are hosting a free virtual event July 22-26 that can be accessed through the convention’s YouTube channel.

The event will be composed of more than 300 panels featuring stars, directors, writers, artists and craftspersons from across the spectrum of genre entertainment. You can find the complete and overwhelming list of the panels here: The schedule is listed in Pacific Time.

If you have any interest in pop culture, you’re bound to a plethora of interesting topics and discussions available during the virtual festival.

Most of the panels are just for entertainment, like spotlights on actors like Charlize Theron (July 24 at noon Central) or Nathan Fillion (July 26 at 4 p.m. Central) or a director like Joss Whedon (July 24 at 7 p.m. Central).

However, others are more educational like the 5 p.m. July 22 panel “Comic in the Classroom” where a group of teachers discuss how to use comics and graphic novels in the classroom to teach and encourage reading, or the 6 p.m. July 22 program “Books for All Time: Redefining How We Share Books with Kids,” with a panel of publishers, creators, librarians and teachers discussing how to integrate genre fiction in the classroom.

There are a myriad of panels on various aspects of Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Marvel and DC comics and upcoming films and TV shows.

I’ve attended the live con five times in the last 20 years and have always come away most impressed with the quality and depth of panels I was able to attend.

New In Local Movie Theaters

  • Back to the Future II(PG) 1 hr. 48 min. (trailer)
    Playing at: Malco Razorback
  • Ghostbusters(PG) 1hr. 45 min. (trailer)
    Playing at: Malco Razorback
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets(PG) 2 hr. 41 min. (trailer)
    Playing at: Malco Razorback
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom(PG) 1 hr. 58 min. (trailer)
    Playing at: Malco Razorback

  • 112 Drive In

  • Beauty and the Beast(PG) 2 hr. 19 min. (trailer)
    Playing: July 17-29
  • Iron Man(PG-13) 2 hr. 6 min. (trailer)
    Playing: July 17-29

Classic Corner – The Maltese Falcon

The 1941 classic film noir “The Maltese Falcon” is featured at 7 p.m. Saturday on Turner Classic Movies’ “Essentials,” where host Ben Mankiewicz briefly discusses the significance of the movie with director Brad Bird before the film plays.

The film, scripted and directed by John Huston, practically established the conventions for all private-eye films and TV shows that followed. “The Maltese Falcon” is still considered among the top 23 movies ever made by the American Film Institute.

If “Casablanca” cemented Humphrey Bogart as THE star among stars of 1940s Hollywood, then his turn as novelist Dashiell Hammett’s quintessential private eye Sam Spade catapulted him on that course.

Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet are outstanding in key supporting roles, and Mary Astor’s performance is one of the most duplicitous femme fatales ever committed to film.