Immortality is an age-old trope, but Netflix’s new film The Old Guard gives audiences a new take on it. Based off a graphic novel, it follows a team of mercenaries trying to change the world for the better. However, despite their quick ability to heal, these immortals eventually do die making the story all the more interesting.
Headlining the film is Charlize Theron, whose character Andy (Andromache of Scythia, if we’re being formal) is the oldest of the team. Seeing Theron bring to life a powerful ancient woman who doesn’t see the impact of her actions is refreshing.
It brings forward a new opportunity for a different type of hero. One who has given everything to make the world better, but only sees it getting worse.
It’s something most heroes refuse to see. Andy has been alive long enough that time has taken its toll on her. However, it’s this exact view that is the cause behind the main twist in the film. This twist has audiences stunned.
Andy is tired of losing everything but the physical fight. She is tired of seeing the world devour itself, and carries the weight of the world’s actions on her. We see a hero who considers herself a traitor due to her past.
What makes the film interesting is that we’ll never know the full truth. Andy never reveals to the audience how old she is. We only know she is “old enough” and it’s exciting. Not knowing opens doors to a lot more of the flashbacks we’re invited to see.
There’s no hero origin trope in the film. It begins with existing members Andy, Nicky, Sebastian (Booker) and Joe. They are a group of immortal beings with different backstories, but we get to witness the fifth member’s introduction: Nile, a young woman who died in action.
The series provides an appreciative international cast of characters with a dose of woke culture. Our characters originated in different parts of the world, exceptionally diversifying the film. This allows for different cultures to be recognised and an interesting range of backstories.
Most importantly, it breaks out of the All-American mould and introduces a powerful gay relationship.
Two of the team are men engaged in a decade-old romance. Nicky and Joe’s story has been entangled from the beginning. They began as enemies on opposing sides during the Crusades before falling in love. They share a romance that has grown beyond love into something older.
It casts a light on the isolation Andy feels by contrast. Audiences see an everlasting love against an internal conflict, challenging viewers on whether immortality itself is soul-destroying or nurturing.
But whether they like it or not, they are engaged in a cycle of death and resurrection.
In an age where the greediest of mankind only think for themselves, The Old Guard introduces a very topical villain, Merrick. He owns a pharma giant and is fuelled by self-interest and money, not to better mankind with his creations.
He’s perhaps a disgusting reflection of humanity. Wanting to do something not for the good but for the praise. Merrick is a CEO who wants power and wants to be admired. He wants success. Behind the curtain of his do-gooding is his true desire; to be the one who gets all the credit.
The theme of morality is carried throughout the film. The immortals’ moral goal is to better humanity, whereas Merrick believes it’s a moral obligation to dissect them. Then Nile is left to question what her morals should be. Where does she belong?
Immortality is unknown, but she misses her family. With this newfound life, she needs to decide what route to take in her life.
However, the choice is taken from her. Consent is taken out of the picture within The Old Guard because immortality doesn’t offer a choice. Being immortal means she has to leave her life behind or suffer similar consequences to other members, such as Sebastian (Booker).
Sebastian lost everything because of his immortality. The film shows very realistic impacts of being able to live through everything, such as watching your loved ones grow old and being unable to save them, like Sebastian had to.
It leaves Nile with the inevitable choice to join the rest of the immortals. Thus, she must dedicate her life to their endless task of ending corruption.
However, there is no grand villain. There’s no one big bad guy to defeat. But there’s a dozen waiting, formed out of society and the world itself. There is never only one bad guy. This was refreshing because it’s true.
If we look at the world today, it’s impossible to see just one villain.
Perhaps that’s the purpose of the film. Behind the excellent but fleeting violent scenes, there’s a deeper meaning. One that challenges choices in life and the moral obligations which fit into them. Even the film itself lands on the opportunity of choice.
The Old Guard is not a new genre at all. However, the themes throughout are refreshing and engage audiences’ interests. It may be criticised for lacking action; however, it’s still engaging. Personally, with such an unexpected ending, I hope to see a sequel.
Featured image credit: The New York Times