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The Old Guard review – Charlize Theron has an axe to grind

The Guardian logo The Guardian 11/07/2020 Wendy Ide

Who wants to live for ever? Not Charlize Theron, evidently. Playing immortal warrior Andy, leader of a covert band of unkillable mercenaries, Theron spends almost as much time battling many centuries worth of accumulated angst as she does slicing and dicing entire battalions of attackers. Armed with ennui and an ancient axe, Theron brings layers of complexity to a role that is otherwise largely defined through exemplary fight choreography.

Gina Prince-Bythewood’s crisp, efficient direction of this adaptation of an action-fantasy comic-book series by Greg Rucka serves the physical element of the performances well. A fight on a rattling cargo plane between Theron and KiKi Layne (playing Nile, a reluctant new recruit to the immortal club) is a blast. Even Andy cracks a smile at one point. “She stabbed me,” Theron’s character later tells her right-hand man, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts). “I think she has potential.”

Where the film is less well supported is in the screenplay, which Rucka himself adapted, and which gets bogged down in some decidedly muddy character motivation at a crucial point. Equally tone deaf is a score that sidesteps the timelessness of the central characters, feeling more disposable than eternal. Still, there’s plenty to enjoy, not least Layne’s terrific turn as the newbie with a fresh take on forever.

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