Some actors excel at playing ordinary; Theron has never really been one of them. Even in rare (and excellent) outliers like or Adult, there's always the sense that she’s biding her time, waiting for the moment her character can break free from some sad basement suburbia and get back to the business of slaying or saving the day.
And she’s great at it, unsurprisingly, even if her lonely enforcer is rarely as fierce as Mad Max: Fury Road’s Furiosa nor as fun as Atomic Blonde’s platinum assassin (though her hair, chopped into a glossy chocolate pageboy, does bring back memories of Flux's iconic bob.)
Maybe that’s because poor Andy has spent a thousand-plus years fighting for justice and freedom, and now her worst foe is a peevish pharma bro (Harry Potter’s Melling) intent on forcibly extracting the warriors' deathless DNA for his own nefarious ends. Or maybe it’s that she, and we, have seen so much of this before.
Layne's Nile is the new kid, a nervy young Marine who wakes up in an Afghan field hospital to find a fatal injury mysteriously healed; one moment it's a gaping flesh wound, the next it's disappearing like a time-lapsed kitten scratch. That makes her a convenient proxy for the audience, though the story doesn’t leave a lot of room to mourn the life she’s forced to leave behind.
Or to bring much nuance to the much-heralded queer romance between Guards Joe and Nicky (Marwan Kanzari and Luca Marinelli); mostly it just marks the spot — a happy flag planted for LGBTQ representation — and moves on. (Chiwetel Ejiofor, as the government agent in hot pursuit, also lingers at the edges, underused).
Which seems like even more of a shame considering the kind of intimate storytelling director Prince-Bythewood hails from; her sensitive handling of romantic dramas like Beyond the Lights and Love & Basketball would seem to serve those areas of the film far better than it does its bloody but mostly quotidian fight scenes.
But as the plot gallops toward its climactic showdown, it's hard not to wish for more of nearly everything but bullets: more banter, more backstory, more scale and visual wit. And more, too, of the fellow warrior (Van Veronica Ngo) who may have been Andy's only equal before cruel fate (or just a mean screenplay) stole her away.
The Old Guard begins streaming on Netflix July 10.