The Old Guard (2020)



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Netflix is continuously trying to produce a good action movie. Triple Frontier was not a winner, and I am struggling to finish Extraction after multiple viewing sessions. Netflix should be applauded for providing a platform for minority directors like Gina Prince-Bythewood. Charlize Theron anchors the cast as Andy, a more than one-thousand-year-old immortal warrior. KiKi Layne is the newest recruit, Nile, a former Marine. Harry Melling, Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter franchise, plays ‘evil’ big pharma-bro Merrick.

Merrick is pursuing the immortals at all costs to harvest their power, cure the world’s diseases, and make a ton of money. Merrick channels Martin Shkreli and the debate we should all have about the needs of the many versus the few is not well explored. There is a point to leveraging these people’s unique abilities to help the world, but the movie portrays that as entirely evil. There is certainly a debate to have, especially if the immortals volunteered, but the movie steers clear of that. It is quite disappointing.

My gun play fight scene bar is set at John Wick levels. Just like Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the action sequences just aren’t where I want them to be. They also are not unique like The Villainess. Charlize Theron kicks ass, but it is kind of a one-woman show despite being part of a team. Nile quickly adapts her Marine combat skills, but it feels too short of development time. There is a conspicuous ancient ax that is toted around all movie long but is not used enough to justify its existence. When half of the fighters in a battle are immortal and can bounce back after being riddled with dozens of bullets the stakes are set low. It never felt like there were consequences in the battle, even late in the movie because the group adjusted strategy to stay safe.

The timeline of the movie is a problem in general. The movie does not take enough time to explore the characters and fully develop them. It is a lot of tell not show and I only bought into Nile’s internal struggle. I never felt connected to the other characters, especially Andy.

Late into the movie, I realized that this was a setup movie. That was fully confirmed with the mid-credit scene. Marvel movies are parts of a massive collection of movies, but most of them stand on their own. The Old Guard just feels incomplete as a story. If it is an origin story then I should be developing relationships with the characters, but that never happens.

The screenplay was written by Greg Ruka, the writer of the comic series it is based on. I think he is too close to the comics and was not as effective at creating a complete story for a brand-new audience. I think his screenplay is the root of the lack of character development.

With all the above said, I want to discuss representation around this movie. The director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, wrote and directed the critically acclaimed Love and Basketball in 2000. The film and its cast won numerous awards in black focused competitions. Prince-Bythewood also won the Best First Screenplay award from the Film Independent Spirit Awards. In the twenty years since her first feature-length release, she has only made two other feature films. She should have been given more opportunities and likely was not because she is a woman and black. Love and Basketball was profitable, which is more than can be said for many white male directors that get one or more projects a year.

Two of the immortals, Joe and Nicky, are a same-sex couple complete with an on-screen kiss. This is the first explicitly gay super-hero couple and it is overdue. In a fantasy/comic universe there should be a representation of all types of people. It is a nice progressive nod to get same-sex couples represented on-screen more in all types of film.

KiKi Layne made her silver screen debut in If Beale Street Could Talk. Regina King won the Oscar for best-supporting actress for her performance. KiKi Layne’s performance was not at Regina’s level, but it was a solid debut that should get her into more projects. KiKi Layne was my favorite character and the movie sets her up for a more important role in any sequel. I wanted more time with Nile, KiKi’s character, and I just might get that in the sequel.

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©2019 by Sean Whitehurst