The July release of Netflix’s The Old Guard, a Gina Prince-Bythewood directed adaptation of the Greg Rucka book, caught many of us by surprise. Netflix releases often get very little fanfare, outside of their appearance in the menu under new titles. However word of mouth in geek circles, among fans of action movies and comics books, about how well cast, directed, acted and adapted The Old Guard is, have put the film squarely on the map, and have us all talking “sequel.”
Belle, Pete and Rosa got together to discuss just how fun and exciting The Old Guard truly was.
Belle: Let’s talk about The Old Guard! I legit want to watch it again!
Rosa: I just want to hear Joe talk about his love for Nicky again!
Belle: I love that Greg Rucka insisted that the entire scene would have to be in the movie, and any director/studio who had a problem with doing that was not getting his go ahead! This film is just amazing on so many levels, and I feel like Sony is kicking themselves for not giving Gina Prince-Bythewood whatever she asked for Silver and Black. At least she’s still producing that, but still…
Pete: What you said is 100% right. That’s what Gina Prince-Bythewood does. This is her first action movie; Love and Basketball was her first sports movie. She and Jon Favreau are the only directors I’ve seen do that – tackling a genre film and elevating it; but especially her, who has had far fewer opportunities.
Belle: RIGHT? This movie is what happens when you take a director whose focus is always on character, and give them an action movie with a good script. And the fight scenes? They were so friggin’ elegant and clear!
Pete: Yes, clear was the big one. I feel like too many action films end up in this confusing, blurry, extreme closeup of limbs and shit. You never really know what is going on. GPB has always directed action at that perfect perspective for me. Like, the whole plane scene is done in a wide medium, which I’d have been afraid might make the action look slow. But the way she tackles it, it doesn’t. The sequences feel quick, but brutal. Those hits have weight!
Belle: OH MY GAWD. The plane scene and the initial battle at the set-up! My gawd. I rewound that first fight several times. It’s one of the things I always notice about fight scenes in films. You can tell directors who know how the human body works, and those who don’t.
It was choreographed so well and clearly so well thought-out. I just love so many things; like how much they stuck to the original comic, but tweaked things here and there.
Pete: I’ve never read it!
Belle: Well, first we need to fix that ASAP. But, one of the things that is different is Andy‘s immortality. It wasn’t in question in the comics, but I kind of like how they set it up that it’s ambiguous.
Pete: I like that they didn’t kill her off in the end – like, this may be her last life, but she’s still around – which I appreciate.
Belle: It’s much more interesting to be honest. What do you do when you suddenly might not be able to live forever? At the end of the film she’s definitely hurting, but she’s still healing much faster than a normal person. It’s what made her good-bye with Booker much more upsetting for me as someone who’d read the comic. In the comic, the same thing happened, but we knew they’d see each other in a hundred years, which is a long time to be alone…but still. In the film, it makes it so much worse because there’s a 50/50 chance that she won’t survive that long. Which also explains why Booker is falling-down drunk next we see him, because the whole reason he did what he did is because he was tired of losing family.
Pete: MUCH more impactful.
Belle: He went about it the utterly wrong way, but I totally get why he did what he did: He’s the only one of them who had children, and you’re not supposed to outlive your offspring. He’s been trying to get himself killed ever since, tbh.
Pete: That was the only part I wish had been cleared up a bit more.
Belle: In the comics, due to the very different form of storytelling, we get more flashbacks for all of them. When Booker watched his children die – especially after assuming his immortality would just pass on to them – that shit messed him up.
Pete: Well, that’s just horrible. Yikes.
Belle: There was actually something they cleared up in the film that makes it way worse than I realized from the comics: Remember when Nile woke up dreaming of Quyhn? Because all immortals dream of each other after they die until they meet? Well, that means that for 200 years, Booker has been dreaming of Quyhn because, until Nile came along he was the baby and he was the only one who hadn’t met her. So, he’s been feeling her pain for the last 200 years, and that’s got to be doing his head in as well. Which brings me to that end scene…
Pete: That scene was such a set-up, but in a good way. I was like, “I’ll follow this story all day! Give me a trilogy!”
Belle: All day, ever day. It’ll be interesting to see how they go forward with Quyhn. Will she be just, though justifiably, insane and out for revenge kind of like Callisto? Or will she be more layered? And if she is out for revenge will it be on humanity or on Andy? Now I gotta go back and re-read the books which, IMO, is the mark of a good film – when it makes you want to go read the source material.
Belle: Another thing? I love that Nile is a dark-skinned, African-featured, non-straight-haired, athletically-built black woman. Unlike some adaptations like Raising Dion, where they lightened up the character and turned her from a curvy, dark-skinned short-haired black woman into a thin, curly-haired, light-skinned woman. It’s one of the most irritating things about films in general (and sci-fi in particular) and one of the reasons I an only passively interested in Lovecraft Country: only light-skinned black girls are allowed to play in the sandbox. Literally, Thandie Newton and Sanaa Lathan were the darkest (for a given value of “dark”) women in sci-fi/horror for over a decade until Regina King was in Watchmen, and Regina is the only one who doesn’t have Eurocentric features.
It’s one of the reasons I love Watchmen and Hunters so much. Having women who look like me and are the leads shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it is. Hell, on Hunters there’s not one, not two, but four different black women in that show of varying shapes, sizes, and ethnic backgrounds, and the lead actress is a short, curvy, dark-skinned African-featured, beautiful black lady. The dream girl that Logan Lerman‘s character is in love with, and every dude in the neighborhood has a crush on? Dark-skinned black girl with natural hair.
Pete: Seriously, Nile was cast and directed perfectly. She had the right level of incredulous and angry, and also believably competent and relatable. Black women characters in particular seem never to be given permission to be furious, while also being clever and introspective. GPB has always directed emotion with such a light and natural hand that you always believe the characters as real people.
Plus, Nile reminds me of several Marine women I have known. She is not built like a tank, but she is fit and fast. So fast and efficient in all her combat scenes. Without any flashback or reference, I felt like I could envision her at MCMAP training – pushing herself – knowing that to get to her level, she would have to train harder and be tougher.
Belle: It took me way to long to connect that Nile is played by the same actress from If Beale Street Could Talk. Kiki Layne is one to watch, for real.
Pete: For real.
Pete: Everyone is cast so well; and I love that Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s role takes some unexpected turns.
Rosa: And that Dudley Dursley was the bad guy!
Belle: Holy shite, I didn’t recognize him either!
Women Getting Shit Done
Rosa: Another thing, and it’s a little thing, but…I loved that neither of the women had flowing locks of ridiculous hair.
Belle: I didn’t even notice that, but you’re right: even though Nile’s hair was long, it was always regulation-ready. Which it should be! She’s a damn Marine. Also, something my mom noticed: none of the outfits were insanely revealing, even in the flashbacks. All of the clothing for women was appropriate for the time period, yet not titillating.
Rosa: I was honestly so pumped by how much agency the women in this film had. They had shit to do, and they got it done! In particular, it was so heartening to see how they portrayed women in the military – they were trustworthy service members who could follow orders, act as a unit, and handle their job with both empathy and fucking fierceness when threatened. While I think it’s important to highlight the struggles that women have in a male-dominated profession, there are so few portrayals of women in the military that aren’t period pieces about them being field nurses, stories of sexual assault, or just plain side jokes used to emasculate the male characters. Nile and her unit had a believable bond and style…which admittedly made it more disappointing and took away from the carefully crafted setup when her friend rejected her and threw that bond away.
Pete: I am always a sucker for a more honest portrayal of military folks in general – it’s so bizarrely rare in films. Making them Marines, and paying attention to that service’s specific culture and language was smart all around. But I did feel that it was odd and frustrating to see her fellow Marines suspicious and not elated at her survival, no matter how unusual the circumstances. I know a reason had to be found for her to feel ostracized, lost and unable to go back, I just wish it hadn’t been at the expense of those relationships. The reward, though, was seeing her bond with her new “family.”
Belle: This was the only flaw I have with the film to be honest. Especially knowing the role her fellow Marines play in her storyline in the comics. It’s the only part of the film that felt a bit rushed and as if something was cut for time and even then the actors did such a good job of giving so much in such a short time that I didn’t feel completely shortchanged.
Charlize Theron: The Queen
Charlize Theron as Andromache the Scythian
Belle: Listen, Charlize Theron is the best action star, possibly the best actor, of our generation. Period. I think we all knew that by the time Fury Road came out, but all of her characters – even throwaways in films like Fast 8 (or whatever one she was in) have layers and aren’t just unstoppable murder machines.
Pete: I remember saying, after seeing Fury Road, that I just wanted a series of movies with Max and Furiosa road-tripping through the apocalypse. This gave me the same feeling. Some actors just shine in action roles. My favorites, like Charlize, are also stellar in dramatic roles. It just shows how good someone can be when they respect the genre. Plus she’s my age, so I have to celebrate that!
Belle: I have legit loved her since 2 Days In the Valley and, unlike some people *ahem* ScarJo *ahem*, she has lived up to the hype.
Overall this film was pretty much everything you’d want in a thinking person’s action movie and then some. We cannot wait, though we’ll have to, for the sequel!
4.5 Double Bladed Axes out of 5