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The superheroes in Netflix’s The Old Guard are immortal. Doesn’t that make it a bit pointless?

In 2020’s cinematic landscape, are we now expected to have the same amount of patience with movie franchises – ones that are set up to stretch over more than a handful of sequels, à la Marvel and Mission: Impossible – as we do with TV shows? Should we take the first outing with a pinch of salt as we wait for the characters to reveal themselves and the writers to find their stride in later instalments?

This is the question we’ve been pondering ever since the credits rolled on The Old Guard, Netflix’s new film that is very clearly a pilot for a new superhero franchise that’s a bit like a middle-man between Avengers and Fast & Furious. As a standalone, it’s fairly run of the mill, littered with genre cliches: the tortured antihero lead (played by Charlize Theron), the unearned double-crosses and twists, the overuse of bad pop music to tell the audience how to feel. It’s weighed down by exposition, clunky writing and predictable storytelling. But its premise – it follows a group of immortal mercenaries – is strong enough and malleable enough to suggest that The Old Guard could become more interesting and entertaining at a later date.

About that premise. It is revealed, almost giddily, about half-an-hour in. We meet Theron’s Andy, a dark and broody figure, and a few of her burly male pals – Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli – also dark, also broody. They appear to be a group of vigilante militants who take on particularly dangerous missions. On this occasion, they’ve been asked to save a group of girls who have been abducted for the purposes of human trafficking in Sudan.

When they get through to the room where the girls are supposed to be, after effortlessly dispatching of a group of soldiers, they realise the whole operation has been a set-up (via Chiwetel Ejiofor’s duplicitous Copley). A firing squad armed with assault rifles guns them down gruesomely. Their bullet-littered bodies drop to the floor. Game over, right? That’s it for Charlize in her starring role, then? Nope. Lying dead on the floor, their bodies begin to heal and the bullets are squeezed out of their skin like zits. They get up and do away with the remaining soldiers.

So, yeah, they’re immortal (though no one seems to know how or why). Is… is that it? As you might expect, this kind of takes the sting out of the fight scenes. If they can’t die, they can’t lose, rendering most of the action quite meaningless. In fact, it kind of renders the whole thing meaningless. 

Some jeopardy is injected by way of more exposition, with various characters explaining that though these people have been around for centuries, there have been various villainous folk who have captured them and/or killed them over and over for decades, arguably a fate worse than death. One former colleague, they mournfully discuss, was sealed in an iron coffin and dropped to the bottom of the ocean, never to be seen again. We get a few glimpses of their former lives in centuries past, with flashbacks to Charlize in a dodgy wig, dispatching enemies with an axe (which she still carries around in the present day).

And then, some new blood comes in the form of a newly minted immortal, KiKi Layne’s Nile, a soldier who is killed in combat, only to come back to life shortly afterwards. Charlize goes and recruits the somewhat reluctant – and sadly underwritten – new superhero and this kicks off a series of events that leads to some of the crew being captured by an evil scientist (Harry Melling, AKA Dudley from Harry Potter).

After this, there’s a series of twists – which the writing doesn’t quite justify, but, hey, people love twists – some decent action scenes and about six different endings, most of which are planting seeds for future instalments, before the credits roll. It does just enough to spark some interest in the future of this Netflix movie franchise. Just. 

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