They’re the best at what they do, Andy’s little band. And they’ll do whatever is asked of them—if the cause, and the price, is right. They slide into a country like a blade of smoke. They rescue who they can, kill who they must, and poof, they’re gone.
They see themselves as the good guys. “We fight for what we think is right,” says Nicky, one of the group’s members. But lately, team leader Andy wonders whether they’re doing any good at all. For all their efforts, the world’s getting worse, not better. And Andy’s had enough.
“The world can burn, for all I care,” she says.
But if the world did burn, these four teammates—spoiler alert—might be the only people left standing.
Yes, Andy’s team is indeed the best at what they do. They’re quick, strong and lethal. Also, immortal. That helps in their line of work.
Oh, they’ll die eventually. Every living thing does, they’ll point out. But until their time comes, their bodies spit out bullets, patch up stab wounds and stitch together broken bones quicker than Starbucks brews your latte. Any number of people would kill to get their hands on their secret … if anyone knew about it.
But now, it seems as though someone does know. After Andy’s team is brutally ambushed in the South Sudan—with the whole attack recorded on video—Andy knows their secret is out. No longer are they the hunters: Now someone’s hunting them.
And that’s not all. Just as Andy and her team realize (through a subconscious dream connection) that they’re in someone’s crosshairs, they learn there’s another immortal out there—one who just discovered it herself. In her dreams, Andy sees the woman clearly: a soldier serving in Afghanistan.
She’s the first immortal to appear in, what, 200 years?
“Not another one,” Andy huffs. “Not now.”
But she has no choice but to deal with it. While Andy directs the rest of her team to find their pursuers, she goes after the new immortal herself. The woman’s going to want answers, after all. She’s confused, maybe scared. And given how people often react to folks who rise from the dead (Zombie! Vampire!), she might be in a little danger herself. (As much as an immortal person can be, at least.)
Plus, given the unknown threat that faces her team, another trigger finger couldn’t hurt.
You get jaded after a few hundred years of battling baddies. Andy and her team may fight for what they believe is right, but several centuries of seeing humankind’s worst sides can make even the best of them question their priorities.
But Nile—the new girl—is free from centuries of world-weary cynicism. She’s still shaken by the fact that she killed a man—even though the same man “killed” her. She protects and sacrifices for her fellow teammates. She longs to talk with her family again, and she praises how her mother raised her.
“She fought for us,” Nile tells Andy of her mother. “Never backed down. Never let us back down, either.”
Nile’s presence seems to remind Andy of her own essential humanity. Though Andy can’t even remember what her family looked like after all this time (and she was born in an age long before someone could just snap a picture), she understands the longing that Nile has for her family. And it leads Andy to a rather unexpected, and sacrificial, decision.
That said, all of the team members seem willing to sacrifice for each other. And even when we do see someone commit a highly ungenerous act, he does so because of a painful past experience.
We should also note that even the bad guys don’t necessarily have completely bad motives. Andy’s team is being pursued by a pharmaceutical company hoping to save and elongate the lives of millions. Sure, Merrick, the company’s CEO, seems more motivated by profits than philanthropy. But others—propelled by the suffering they’ve seen in their own families—sincerely (if misguidedly) believe that capturing and experimenting on Andy and her team can somehow still serve the greater good. In the end, though, the film repudiates that idea, reminding us that good intents can’t justify evil actions.
[Spoiler Warning] While Andy questions whether her team is doing good or not, someone tracking their history knows they are—and just how much. Andy will save a child, for instance, and that child grows up to invent an important vaccine. A rescued family eventually spawns someone who saved hundreds from the Khmer Rouge. “She saves a life, and two or three generations later, we reap the benefits,” he says. It’s almost as if they’re on a divine mission, saving certain people to keep humanity’s epic story on track. And speaking of which …
… Nile is a Christian. After she comes back to life, we see her sitting on a cot, holding the cross hanging around her neck thoughtfully. And when she and Andy take a rickety plane back to the rest of Andy’s team, Nile bows her head.
“Are you praying?” Andy says with a laugh. “God doesn’t exist.”
“My God does,” Nile insists.
Andy’s not moved. She dismisses the whole idea of a divine hand and mocks Nile for her faith. She says that once upon a time, she was worshipped as a god, and she’s seen enough horrific stuff to dismiss the idea of a protective Creator. Nothing means anything, Andy insists, though she admits that their own immortality is hard to explain.
“You should just keep following that illogic,” Andy says. “You’re already on board with the supernatural.”
Andy did have a bad experience with Christian believers back in the day. As she and an immortal friend tried to save some people accused of witchcraft sometime during the Middle Ages, they were naturally accused of being witches themselves. The fact that they couldn’t be killed “proved” their pact with the devil. As the two wait to be burned at the stake, a bunch of soldiers with a priest barge in and separate the two.
“For creatures such as you, there is no salvation,” the priest says, holding a huge wooden cross, taking one of the immortals out of the cell.
Andy’s team hides out in an old, deserted church (and does lots of killing there). One teammate, Nicky, prays before battle and tells passing villagers, “Peace be with you.” He insists that their lives, and their collective partnership, were “meant” to happen. Turns out, he and fellow team member Joe both fought in the Crusades—though on opposite sides.
“The love of my life was of the people I’d been taught to hate,” Nicky says. Which leads us to our next section.
Nicky and Joe are lovers, and have been monogamously so for hundreds of years. “This man is more than you could ever know” when someone asks Joe if Nicky is his “boyfriend.” “His kiss still thrills me even after millennia.” Nicky calls his beau an “incurable romantic,” and the two men share a lingering kiss. We also see the couple waking up (fully clothed) in bed together.
This gay relationship is the only confirmed romance we see in the film—though when Nile spies a bare-breasted statue crafted by the famous artist Rodin, Andy admits that she knew the guy. “Probably biblically,” quips Booker, the fourth member of the team. We see a bit of cleavage, and some men are sometimes seen shirtless.
Andy’s team is sent to rescue a handful of kidnapped girls. “The youngest is 8. The oldest, 13,” someone tells Andy. Though it’s never expressed explicitly, we assume these girls will soon be separated and sold as part of a human trafficking ring.
After Andy kills a score of would-be attackers (to Nile’s appalled amazement), Booker tells her, “That woman has forgotten more ways to kill than whole armies will ever know.”
Perhaps the movie serves as a refresher course for Andy, because things then turn remarkably bloody.
Dozens upon dozens upon dozens of non-immortal humans are slaughtered—often, but not always, quickly. Most are dispatched via a bullet to the head (or a few to the chest), and a few fatalities are accompanied by briefs splashes of blood. Others have their throats cut. One man has the arteries in his legs swiftly and silently severed.
But some don’t die so easily. After a drawn-out fight, a man lands on his head and grotesquely snaps his neck. Andy sends an axe into another man’s neck, the weapon sticking partly out. A man falls to his death. In a flashback, we see a fellow with a horrific injury to his midsection slowly bleed out (blood burbling out of his mouth, as well).
But as bad as those injuries might be, they look fairly tame to those suffered by our damage-resistant immortals.
One takes a grenade explosion to his midsection; flesh and blood mix with what looks like hints of intestine, and the rest of his body looks bloodily mangled, too. (Even that, though, isn’t enough to keep him unconscious for more than a minute or so.) Another suffers a gunshot through the mouth: While we don’t see the shot itself, we do see the blood and gore as he revives.
Bone breaks are particularly grotesque, with slivers often sticking straight out of the skin (or, in one case, turning a set of fingers into practically a pipe-cleaner sculpture made by a preschooler) before the breaks heal without any long-standing damage.
Elsewhere, a throat is grotesquely slit. A brain is filled with a bullet. Characters are stabbed repeatedly and sometimes appear dead, their faces covered in blood and bodies pocked with wounds. One is injected with a massive, painful needle.
Our immortal protagonists take in more lead than a pencil factory. In flashback, we learn that one met a terrible “end.” The immortal was locked in an iron coffin and dumped into the ocean, destined to drown and revive and drown again until the end of time. (“It’s the reason we dread capture,” Nicky tells Nile. “[We don’t want to] spend eternity in a cage.”)
The recovery can be almost as ooky, with bodies squeezing bullets out of the wounds. And while Andy’s team may be immortal, every injury still causes pain. Nile finds this out herself when she sticks her hand in a burning fire, and she pulls it out covered, temporarily, by blisters.
People are punched and kicked, too. We see someone suffer from a cruel illness, and we hear about others in the same boat. Newspapers and press clippings tell of some old bloody incidents, while televised news reports describe some new ones. A plane nearly crashes. Someone jumps off a moving train. Merrick says that his company just released a drug that will save hundreds of thousands of lives … though the process killed a quarter of a million mice. When he views footage of the immortals at work, he calls the footage a “$2 million snuff film.”
Seven f-words and about 20 s-words. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—,” “sucks” and “p-ssed.” God’s name is misused twice (once with “d–n”), and Jesus’ name is abused three times.
Andy guzzles quite a bit of vodka on a plane. Nile speculates that Andy drugged her to make her think that she’d died. A man staggers to his apartment, obviously drunk, and lets a whisky bottle fall from his hand. (It breaks on the floor.) People drink wine with dinner.
Merrick hopes to use the immortals’ DNA to craft life-saving, or life-extending drugs, and he brags how successful his scientists have been in creating lifechanging drugs in the past.
Nile vomits. Andy threatens a would-be partner.
The Old Guard may feel fresh and new. But in some ways, it’s the same old story.
Anchored by a strong performance by Charlize Theron, Netflix’s latest actioner (based on a comic book of the same name) is one of the more intense, intriguing, throwaway action movies you’ll see during this COVID-interrupted movie season. It’s also among the bloodiest.
The violence here is frenetic, the gore unremitting. A same-sex relationship between two of our heroes could cause another swath of would-be viewers to push pause. And while the film offers some odd-but-resonant nods to God and transcendent purpose here, it’s not enough to redeem The Old Guard’s failings.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.