Cert 15 Stars 2

Charlize Theron’s latest action thriller is a wannabe franchise starter but instead of being an extravagant exercise in gleeful mayhem promised by the outlandish concept, it delivers a curiously flat experience in a painfully pedestrian manner.

With centuries old immortal warriors battling their way across time, this could easily have been a storming feast of inventive comic book violence, like 1988’s Highlander updated for the 21st century.

Highlander is a big bag of swashbuckling nonsense and one of my favourite films, however where it featured a contest to the death for the ultimate prize, here they’re a sword-carrying band of do-gooding undercover mercenaries, a bit like TV’s the At-Team, but without the knowing sense of escapist fun.

Wanting to anchor the story firmly in the real world the script includes kidnapped African schoolgirls, Afghanistan action, and an exploitative pharmaceutical corporation.

But it takes itself far too seriously and is played with the earnest and weary tone of an existential drama as characters struggle to cope with the pain of never-ending life.

Worse the adequately-staged action is formulaic and nowhere near as thrilling as Theron’s blistering fights in 2017’s thriller Atomic Blonde. Here she’s the leader of the soldiers teaching the newly immortalised KiKi Layne how to survive as an outsider in a world which fears you.

As for Theron’s team, Matthias Schoenaerts is even more morose than usual, while Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli are sympathetic but forgettable, and collectively they’re far from a bundle of laughs. But as the villain is tragically underpowered, they’ve little reason to raise their game.

The most interesting character is Chiwetel Ejiofor’s former CIA agent who commissions Theron’s team to stage a daring rescue, and terrific as the British actor can be, even he struggles with the misjudged tone, which is a criminal waste of talent as he’s more than capable of delivering the outrageous performance necessary to carry the material.