In the wake of the Friday release of the highly anticipated Marvel Black Widow, and with another female-led action flick, Milkshakes with powder, releasing next week on Netflix (reviews for the two will come separately!), it seemed like the right time to revisit director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s gripping and downright brilliant action flick, The old guard.
Released exactly one year ago on Saturday, The old guard was extremely well received by critics and was my favorite movie of 2020, easily making it to my list of the best year-end feminist films. And yet, the film deserves even more fanfare and continued accolades (especially with a sequel in the works). Consider this as my The old guard one year anniversary gift, masquerading as a review.
Based on a series of comics by writer Greg Rucka and artist Leandro Fernández, The old guard tells the story of a group of immortal warriors destined to fight for justice across millennia and around the world. While they are meant to fight for a greater good, Warriors have little understanding of exactly how their actions change the course of history, how their sacrifices actually make a difference.
One more twist: Each Warrior’s lifespan is seemingly endless, but their immortal status is undefined. Although they may be killed and resurrected, completely healed, potentially hundreds or thousands of times, one day their death will be final and they have no way of knowing when that day will come.
One of the film’s central tensions revolves around the training of a newly discovered warrior, US Marine Nile (KiKi Layne), and the shifting motivations of the band’s frontman, Andromache, or Andy (played with understated intensity by Charlize Theron ), and his comrades: Nicky (Luca Marinelli), Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts).
Andy begins to stray. She is the oldest of them by at least a few millennia (although she does not reveal her exact age, at one point her name is Andromache the Scythian, which is said to date back to at least the 3rd century BC). Our era). Andy has doubts about their mission, suffering from a crisis of faith; the world seems to get worse, no matter how many people they save, no matter how many battles they win. We later learn that she is also plagued with guilt over the loss of her first mate, a warrior named Quynh (Veronica Ngo), whose capture and subsequent Promethean torture still haunts Andy.
Then, a dangerous rival and Nile’s training help refocus Andy’s resolve. In order to perform their heroic deeds over the centuries relentlessly, warriors need anonymity, which also protects them from the imprisonment and abuse that science and industry might wish to commit on an immortal body. They become irritated within the limits of their responsibilities, constantly weighing the threat of discovery against their sense of duty in an increasingly complicated world. Freshly recruited, Nile asks the others if they’re the good guys or the bad guys. “We are fighting for what we think is right,” says Nicky, who met her lover, Joe, during the Crusades, on opposite sides of centuries of war.
The old guard does a lot of things exceptionally well, both from a representational meta perspective and from a storytelling and cinematography level. It features two prominent and complex women in lead roles, a myriad of characters of color from different nations of origin, and a central gay male couple whose deep connections are explicitly recognized and honored. (There’s a touching scene, a highlight, where Joe gives a passionate and poetic speech about what Nicky means to him in the face of the youthful mockery of an enemy in their relationship.) As such, the film pulls off a punch. sort of inclusion in the sense of gender, race, and sexuality that works seamlessly, making meaningful diversity a lot simpler than most in the film industry would have us believe.
The old guard achieves a kind of inclusion based on gender, race, and sexuality that works seamlessly, making meaningful diversity a lot simpler than most in the film industry would have us believe.
In terms of The old guard as a work of cinema, the staging of Prince-Bythewood is flawless, as is the acting: the characters are nuanced and varied, the rhythm balances fast and spectacular combat choreographies with almost meditative scenes in their privacy. While the fights are fierce and bloody, including some challenging visuals that are viscerally painful, even the moments that can make a viewer wince in sympathy or shock never feel free. In The old guard, everything has its place and its purpose, cinematically and narratively.
The film’s high-stakes immortality / mortality bet and the fluctuating perspectives on the purpose and meaning embodied by each warrior give The old guard an intellectual backbone that forms the basis of its many thrilling action sequences. This underlying philosophical stream is particularly revealing in the context of recent years, where we are constantly bombarded with bad news.
At the start of the film, one of Andy’s compatriots argues that the team “can do good,” only to inspire Andy’s pessimistic retort: “Have you been watching the news lately? Some coupons don’t mean anything. A year later, watching his response still feels more familiar to me than I would like. Apparently even Immortal Warriors have the blues.
As we each ask ourselves, what can I, one person, do that can make a difference, The old guard reminds us that our influence extends further than we realize. The consequences of inaction can be dire, but the impact of “something right” can mean everything in the right place at the right time.
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