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THE OLD GUARD: 2 ½ STARS. “movie’s appeal is not as immortal as its characters.”

“The Old Guard,” a new superhero flick starring Charlize Theron on Netflix, has the earmarks of an action flick, but brings the genre kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century by focusing the story on not just one, but two female characters.

Theron channels the dark side that made her characters in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Atomic Blonde” so compelling. She’s Andy, a tough-as-nails immortal mercenary with the power to heal herself, no matter how deep the wound. “She has devised more ways to kill than entire armies will ever know,” says unkillable sidekick, and former soldier for Napoleon, Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts). For centuries they have fought the good fight—depending on which side you take—along with Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), sticking up for the maltreated and oppressed. “Through history, we’ve protected this world,” says Andy, “fighting in the shadows.”

In modern day they come across Nile (KiKi Layne), a Marine who shares their “extremely rare skillset.” “She stabbed me,” Andy says admiringly, “I think she has potential.”

Nile is the first of their kind they have come across since 1812 and soon they recruit her to join their ranks. “You haven’t figured this out yet?” Andy asks her. “You can’t die.” At the same time a mad-scientist big pharma type (Harry Melling) sets his sights on them as lab rats in his experiments to find a cure for death. “If we can unlock their genetic code, the entire world will be begging us for the key.”

“The Old Guard” is an action film, with carefully staged and exciting fight scenes, but first and foremost it’s a set-up for a franchise. Like an action-packed trailer for a movie it teases the possibility of the next film. The origin story is talky, illustrated by flashbacks, while the main plot is resolved quickly in a hail of bullets and a few swings of an axe. Then the set up begins, as they hint at further adventures. Trouble is, I’m not sure “The Old Guard’s” appeal is as immortal as its characters.

Theron and Layne are strong characters who deliver in the fist-to-the-face action department, but the movie doesn’t let them shine. As mentioned, the fight scenes are well staged but their relationship is never fully developed. Everyone, except for Melling who appears amped up on something he didn’t share with the rest of the cast, is on a slow simmer which gives the movie a laid-back vibe which doesn’t spark interest.

“The Old Guard” does a good thing by placing two women at the center of an action movie but the all-set-up all-the-time script doesn’t do the characters or the movie any favors.

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