Shot by Shot with ‘The Old Guard’ Trailer

Sporting two cinematographers, ‘The Old Guard’ looks to balance the artful with the utterly vicious.
The Old Guard
By  · Published on May 22nd, 2020

The unkillable badass movie is one of our favorite subgenres. Whether it’s vampires, highlanders, or mouthy mercs, we’ll devour their adventures of clinical disregard for us feeble, disposable sacks of flesh. Try as hard as they might to make their neverending slog through life look dreary; we just want to take two hours to contemplate an existence free from the fear of oblivion. Mmmmmm…relaxing.

The Old Guard is the latest in a line of adventurous comic book adaptations coming to Netflix. The source material, written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Leandro Fernández, follows a group of four immortal assassins as they go from one job to the next, trying to maintain some semblance of morality given their unique perspective. Just as they discover a new member of their fraternity coming into her own, they’re targeted by a friend looking to score the secret to eternal life.

A quick glance at the trailer reveals a film adhering faithfully to the comic book, which makes sense since Rucka was tasked with translating his own story to screenplay. Andy (Charlize Theron) is the supreme badass holding the gang together while also struggling with a serious case of the doldrums. Nile (KiKi Layne) is the young whipper-snapper excited by her burgeoning talents, but unaware of the impossibly long road ahead of her. Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is the once upon a time friend looking to sell their secrets for fame and profit.

The Old Guard may be dealing with familiar concepts, but after Mad Max: Fury Road and Atomic Blonde, we’ll follow Theron into any battle. Not only that, but this is also director Gina PrinceBythewood‘s first foray into action cinema. She gave us two of the most romantic films in recent memory (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights), and we’re hoping she can pull whole heaps of emotional turmoil from the stacks of corpses left in the wake of Theron and Layne’s carnage.

Curiously, the film is credited with two cinematographers: Tami Reiker, Prince-Bythewood’s collaborator on Beyond the Lights, and Barry Ackroyd, the frenetic shooter who Paul Greengrass and Kathryn Bigelow often use to inject their work with a sense of embedded reporting. Below, we’ve chopped up the trailer into ten meaty frames, showcasing a flick balancing the artful with exhilarating brutality.

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This frame is practically ripped directly from the comic book. Andy (Theron), Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) are caught unawares. They took a job from Copley (Ejiofor), expecting a roomful of hostages guarded by a few armed terrorists. Instead, they find no prisoners, only a bunker of itchy trigger fingers.

Their backlit silhouettes are perfect. Guns are cool, but the broad swords and battle axes strapped to their person are even cooler. The appeal of immortals stems from the blending of various ages. We all have our lucky charms, right? I still carry around a pocket knife given to me by my grandfather when I was eight years old. The same principle applies for Andy; only she’s been holding onto her ax for a wee bit longer.

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The four take their bullets. Prince-Bythewood is letting us know that The Old Guard is not interested in pulling punches. On Netflix, there is no MPAA to worry about. If she’s going to do an action flick, she’s going to do it right. To sell the boredom of immortality, you also have to sell the blasé attitude toward gore and various bits of viscera.

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Andy rises from the floor. All that these goons have done is make her mad. She can’t die, but she can still feel pain. She will return the favor tenfold.

As she and the rest of her crew unleash hell upon the chumps across from them, they’re unaware of a video camera soaking up all the information. Copley needed their abilities caught on tape. Andy’s only care these days is her opportunity to act in secret. She’s happy as long as the rest of the world remains ignorant of her gifts.

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Andy tells Booker over the phone that she thinks “the new one” has potential. Nile (Layne) and Andy square off against each other aboard a transport plane. Nile is a soldier who discovered her skills while operating in the battlefields of Afghanistan. Andy’s group have to recruit her fast.

They can’t allow Nile to freak out the rest of the world while she’s adjusting to immortality. Part of being eternal is accepting your role as a teacher. It’s in Andy’s best interest to ease newbies into her lifestyle.

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Nile asks her new friends if they’re good guys or bad guys. Joe responds, “It depends on the century.” After all, history is written by the winners.

Andy and her friends have found themselves on the losing side, but as we see here, they do try to fight for those that cannot, and obviously, they’ve been doing it for a very long time. Given how people change throughout their life, consider how an immortal’s code of ethics evolves over centuries. Certainly, there are plenty of actions taken that Andy would prefer to forget.

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This shot feels very John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum to me. A squad of tough cases alone in the all-consuming loneliness of the desert. It’s a neat and tidy visual metaphor for their violent, sorry lot in life. All they have is each other. That’s got to be enough, but sometimes it’s not.

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With advancements in technology, Andy can no longer hide in the shadows. They’ve been outed by Copley. Others are hungry for what they have.

Harry Melling (Harry Potter, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) is just another greedy capitalist. He wants to unlock Andy’s genetic code and weaponize her DNA for those willing to pay the big bucks. It’s the kind of villainy Andy has seen all her very long life. No one is probably more boring to her than this guy, but that doesn’t mean she won’t take any pleasure in accelerating his expiration date.

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Andy is short for Andromache of Scythia. Where Nile discovered her special skill set in combat, Andy was not so lucky. Since her birth, she has witnessed the very worst that humanity has to offer. Such wisdom darkens the soul.

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Andy was frequently branded a witch by god-fearing Christians. If you were stuffed inside an iron maiden for simply being who you are, you would not trust folks much either. The Old Guard is a thrilling action film, but when it goes dark, it goes real damn dark. Expect uncomfortable bouts of horror peppered throughout the history of our heroes. The human race has a lot to answer for.

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The trailer ends with the point of the entertainment. Give Andy and Nile your best shot. They’ll respond in kind. Read the sign on the door. When they’re around, you’re in “Danger of Death.” Theron and Layne look mean as hell, and we’re here for it.

The Old Guard hits Netflix hard on July 10th.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)