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How The Old Guard is different from the graphic novel

Based on the first five issues of Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández's 2017 Image Comics miniseries, The Old Guard is a different take on superheroes. There are no capes, and no costumes — just a lot of violence and emotional turmoil rooted in the real world and viewed through the cynical lens of history. A small, international team of mercenaries fight for what they think is right wherever they go, not quite putting their lives on the line because they're all centuries old, can heal instantly, and seemingly cannot be killed by conventional (or extraordinarily brutal) methods. They face one of their biggest fights ever when they're lured into a trap by a pharmaceutical CEO who wants to torture them and use their biological material for the lucrative goal of bringing immortality to the masses.

The Old Guard, starring reliable action hero Charlize Theron as head mercenary Andromache of Scythia (or just Andy), hit Netflix in the summer of 2020. And because movies are a very different medium than comics, the filmmakers had to make some changes to story and characters. Here are all the major differences between The Old Guard the comic and The Old Guard the movie. If you want a crash course in all things Old Guard before you dive in, you may want to read the book or watch the movie first, because there are major spoilers ahead.

Viewers don't get to see the backstories

Andromache of Scythia isn't the only immortal mercenary fighter — she's just the leader of a whole team of them, and the most recognizable in the movie because she's portrayed by Charlize Theron. At the outset of The Old Guard the film, there are three other mostly unkillable warriors in her special club: Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts), Joe (Marwan Kenzari), and Nicky (Luca Marinelli). Those are actually just their modernized, anglicized names, because like Andromache, or Andy, they're all impossibly old. 

The comics take some time giving the reader these characters' fascinating backgrounds and origin stories in lush, fully illustrated flashbacks. Probably because it would take up a substantial amount of screen time and the production budget to follow suit, the film expresses Andy's associates' histories via characters just saying what they are. Film-only fans of The Old Guard miss out on dramatic, formative moments, like Booker, known in the past as Sebastian Le Livre, fighting with Napoleon's army in the 1800s, or how lovers Joe and Nicky met when they were Yusuf Al-Kaysani and Nicolo di Genova, and fighting on opposites sides during the Crusades, continually trying — and failing — to kill one another.

No love for Andy

Back in the comics, Andy is the classic lone wolf action hero — she's got a dark and violent past, lots of secrets, and she doesn't want to let in anyone emotionally. As she's immortal and a hired killer, life isn't particularly precious to her. As such, she does whatever she can to make herself feel the fleetingness and vitality of mortal life again, if only for a little while. 

The first issue opens with a despondent Andy walking away from a one-night-stand, not even wanting to know the guy's name. It would seem Andy has had her heart broken many, many times before because of her unique ability to live a much longer-than-average human lifespan. Readers get a flashback to the time a couple centuries ago when she fell in love with a former slave named Achilles, which ended when he got old and pushed her away, before anyone could ask questions. In the film version of The Old Guard, Andy's romantic life, nor the physical expression thereof, is explored whatsoever. Her emotional life is expressed totally through her devotion to her de facto family of mercenaries.

The main character isn't tech averse

The Andy of Greg Rucka's The Old Guard comics is more than just a sardonic gun for fire who has grown quite tired of violence, death, and rebirth. She resents and distrusts the modern world, believing that people have only grown more terrible over the centuries, and that technology provides a means to make cruelty faster and more efficient. The movie version of Andy also thinks that humanity is on a downward trajectory, but she lacks her comic counterpart's subsequent negative attitude toward gadgets. 

Early in The Old Guard comics, and perhaps playing on the cliche that old people hate computers and have a hard time adopting new consumer technology, the millennia-old Andy can't properly use a smartphone and resents having to learn the interface on a new iPad right after she finally mastered the previous one. Meanwhile, it's established right away in the film version of The Old Guard that Andy has no problem using electronic devices. When she realizes she's appeared in the background of a stranger's photo while in a hotel lobby, the anonymity-requiring character offers to take a picture for the stranger, deftly and quickly deleting the photo that featured her. She's apparently keenly aware of "the cloud" and how a person can be tracked, reinforced later on in the movie when she makes a call on a smartphone and then destroys it with her foot.

Copley is more tragic than wicked

In both the comic and film version of The Old Guard, a mysterious man named Copley recruits Andy, Booker, and the rest of the team to ostensibly retrieve a group of girls kidnapped in war-torn South Sudan. It's all a setup, and he's just working with the true villain, a pharmaceutical CEO named Merrick, to capture the Old Guard so that they can be experimented upon, and so whatever it is about them that makes them immortal can be extracted, replicated, and sold. That's about where the similarities between the two Copleys end, however. 

The Copley of the comics is an American, a secondary villain, and an affiliate of Merrick's. In the movie, he's British (portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor), fleshed-out, complicated, and conflicted. He's wracked with guilt for betraying the ageless beings, but viewers learn that he had compelling, if not heartbreaking motivations: His wife died of ALS, and he figures that if Merrick's scientists can figure out the key to immortality, it could lead to the end of all disease and suffering. He proves himself to be a good guy, reminding Merrick that his endgame should be scientific breakthroughs, not money or power, and then assisting Nile in her rescue of her trapped associates.

There's a big set piece not even in the comics

The Old Guard is an action movie based on comic books about heroic, hard-to-kill super-soldiers, so there are a lot of exciting, heavily choreographed fight scenes. Many are faithful re-creations of scenes drawn by artist Leandro Fernández, but one of the most memorable and entertaining set-pieces in the movie doesn't actually appear in the comic at all. It happens to be particularly plot-propulsive, character-building, and darkly funny — humor being kind of rare in the comic book version. 

After convincing Nile to come with her to France to meet the rest of her mercenary group, Andy gets her into a cargo plane carrying drugs. Nile wonders if such a transport is safe, and Andy subtly and wryly informs her that such things don't really matter to immortals, but Nile isn't quite yet convinced of her own powers, so much so that she straps herself into her seat. Andy, by contrast, casually grabs on to the ceiling of the cabin and takes swigs from a bottle of vodka.

As the flight progresses, Nile attempts to take control, engaging in some brutal fisticuffs with Andy, ultimately restraining her and attempting to hijack the plane. Andy calls her bluff and, amazingly, shoots the pilot. But hey, it turns out she only pretended to shoot him, and that cryptic phrase she uttered to him in Russian was "pretend to be dead" — which gets a callback in the movie's climax.

Old Guard HQ is a big improvement

Be it Batman's Batcave, Superman's Fortress of Solitude, or the SuperFriends' Hall of Justice, a super-hangout is very important to super-heroic groups and individuals alike. It's a place to relax, plan, and, most importantly, be as far away as possible from enemies, snoops, and the general public. The Old Guard of The Old Guard understands this, and the group's headquarters reflects Andy's character in both the comics and the film adaptation. 

The Andy of print is brutally dour and world-weary, and as such, she brings Nile to the group's meeting point, a decrepit old mansion full of trash, broken glass, and used drug needles — the kind of place that nobody would actively want to visit. In the film, Andy, Nile, and company have much nicer digs, reflecting the much more loudly stated theme familial camaraderie: The immortal soldiers congregate (and drink many fine bottles of liquor and wine) in a lovely, well-preserved, abandoned church in a French forest. The only downside: It's near an airport, so flying planes are a little loud.

Nile is a much bigger character in the movie

Comics and movies tell stories differently, with the latter often requiring a character to serve as an audience surrogate — like  a character new to a unique situation who can ask a lot of questions and receive a lot of answers in the form of exposition. Ex-Marine turned ageless immortal warrior Nile, played by Kiki Layne, is a new recruit to the old guard in the comic book version of The Old Guard. But in the movie, she's a main character who grapples with unreal characters and their world on behalf of the audience. 

Nile gets a lot more time, attention, and activity in the movie than she did the comics. In the print version, Nile's military career — and the aftermath of her rapid recovery from a throat slashing — isn't given much thought before Andy whisks her away. In the film, viewers see the distrust she engenders in her troop mates, and her coming to terms with that, along with a lot of contemplation over her discovery of her own immortality. Her backstory is explored in more detail as well, such as how her father was a decorated soldier who died in the line of duty, and that her mother worked hard to raise her and her brother on the south side of Chicago. Most notably, Nile becomes the hero of the movie. In the comics, Joe and Nicky bust themselves out of Merrick's lab — in the movie, Nile rescues everyone.

The movie brings in an important character

The film adaptation of The Old Guard brings with it an extremely important character not found in the original run of the comic series, who provides backstory and motivation for Charlize Theron's Andy. Viewers learn that long before she found her current squad of immortal warriors, the first everlasting fighter that Andy ever met was a woman named Quynh (Van Veronica Neo). A flashback sequence depicts them fighting alongside one another and developing a profound friendship. 

Then they're captured, accused of witchcraft for their ability to survive anything, and survive the deadly trial. Finally, the pair, ruled to be too powerful together, are separated and Andy looks on helplessly as authorities drag Quynh away, confine her in a body-shaped metal coffin and throw her into the ocean, where she's spent the last few centuries drowning, dying, and coming back to life over and over. Andy reveals that she spent a long time looking for Quynh, but never did, vowing that never again will she let anyone from her little group die on her watch. Quynth's fate further inspired the entire Old Guard, making them all want to fight, run, and keep their identities secret, lest they also be captured and tortured.

The movie makes it all make sense

One notable aspect of the first run of The Old Guard comics is that author Greg Rucka doesn't really attempt to explain why this group of ancient soldiers is virtually immortal. Rather, the comic explores how life would become cheap if it was eternal, and how awful it is to outlive loved ones. Explaining the whats, hows, and whys of indefinitely living warriors is beside the point. 

But movies are a different beast, and tend to let the viewer in on as many details and rules of its world as possible. The Old Guard delves into the reasons behind the characters' fates, but only a little, and in the form of speculation. Toward the end of The Old Guard movie, after her wounds take longer to heal and it takes her a while to stop bleeding — a switch from thousands of years of instantaneous recovery — Andy states that she believes her long life is about to end, and that Nile showed up to replace her when she finally does pass on. This element of Andy's slow, impending end isn't represented in the comics...though it certainly sets up some interesting possibilities for a sequel.