After Netflix original comic book adaptations like Daybreak, Locke and Key, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the streaming service shows no signs of slowing down its comic book-based content by releasing Warrior Nun and The Old Guard within a week of each other. Where Warrior Nun adapts the early 90s comic into a ten-episode show, The Old Guard went for a movie instead. The film adapts the 2017 Image comic from Greg Rucka (who also wrote the movie’s screenplay) and Leandro Fernandez. It shines as one of the streaming services best adaptions by changing just enough to keep it fresh and make it work on-screen while staying faithful to the source material and cramming in more than its share of gory but brilliantly choreographed action.
Just like in the comics, the Old Guard focuses on a group of (almost) immortal warriors who have lived for centuries fighting through the various wars of humankind. The oldest of the group and its leader is Andromache of Scythia, known in the modern-day as ‘Andy’. Charlize Theron’s take on Andy brings some more humanity to the ancient warrior than there is in the comics, but that makes for a much more likeable leader of the group and helps sell the family dynamic of the team.
Nile, a US Marine who is killed in Afghanistan only to wake up without any injuries, and later become the newest member of the team is played by KiKi Layne, who does a great job of bringing the character to life. Like with Andy the movie version of Nile is a little more dynamic and eventually has a change of heart, deciding to leave the immortal group of killers to see her family (only to be drawn back in as she discovers the truth about what is really going on).
The team is rounded out by Matthias Schoenaerts as Booker, the man responsible for ‘booking’ the team’s jobs and before Nile the youngest member of the group (at only two hundred years old). There is also Marwan Kenzari as Joe and Luca Marinelli as Nicky, two immortals who fought on opposite sides of the Crusades. Overall the whole team has excellent chemistry and really feels like a group of people that have been together for centuries.
The supporting cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor as former CIA agent Copely, and Harry Melling as the main villain, a young Pharmaceutical mogul Steven Merrick.
For the most part, the movie adaptation of The Old Guard’s changes from the original comic book service the story very well, and help streamline the narrative for the screen. Subtle things change like the team taking a break from their murderous ways for a year leading into the movie. But there are some more significant changes to Andy’s past, how the bad guy is defeated, Nile’s character arc, and of course some massive changes with Andy’s powers.
Contrasting with that there are some things the movie lifts directly from the comics that it absolutely nails, like the opening reveal of the hostage-taking being a setup, Nile’s (first) death, and Joe’s scene explaining that Nicky is much more than “his boyfriend” are pitch-perfect live-action versions of the comic book pages.
The action in the Old Guard doesn’t quite achieve that blend of gratuitous gore and charming fun that the Kingsmen movies do, but it’s not too far off. The way Andy and her team work their way through different weapons (showcasing their expertise with almost any method of killing) is great and manages to demonstrate just how much violence they have endured, while also delivering some impressive action scenes.
But even smaller-scale scenes like Andy and Nile’s fight on the plane are brilliantly thought out and feel like they have stakes and emotion to them. And all of that stands without mentioning how good the effects on the team’s regenerative abilities are. What was once completely mind-blowing to see Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine instantly recover from a shot to the head is perfected twenty years later with all manner of injuries, wounds and deaths undone with some great CGI.
One of The Old Guard’s biggest shifts in terms of future planning is how it ends with Copley explaining to the team all of the good they have done over the centuries of saving lives. Andy then decides that Copley will help them find the missions they need to, and ensure their identities stay hidden in the process. This differs from the end of the first story in the comics, and even though Andy is losing her powers, sets up for what could be a flagship Netflix franchise for years to come.
Some may argue that The Old Guard doesn’t have enough new elements for comic book fans, but those people would also be the ones complaining it was too different if it had been changed. I’d argue that Netflix’s The Old Guard has just enough to keep it feeling fresh and new to comics fans while staying true to its roots. The movie is one of Netflix’s best (of many) comic book offerings and looks to pave the way for a fully-fledged franchise that, if prequels and origins come in to play, could span thousands of violence-filled years.