RogerBW's Blog

The Old Guard 14 June 2021

2020 fantasy, dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood, Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne: IMDb / allmovie. From the dawn of time they came, moving silently down the centuries…

So yeah this is a comic adaptation – and comic adaptations, sometimes more than the comics themselves, always try to keep things simple. Why do a very few people become immortal? Dunno. Why do they sometimes stop insta-healing (when "it's their time")? Dunno, and we have no possible way of finding out. Nobody got a briefing about this; it was up to them to decide what to do with this power. (Which turns out to be "stay hidden and do small good things".)

But rather than, as in many films, just making that an excuse for more CGI-fed superpower action, here we get something a bit more interesting. On the one hand, these are people, who perhaps have had a few hundred years to get used to their situation, but still people who had their own individual desires and passions and dislikes before the "immortal warrior" template was applied. And while the villain is cartoonishly obvious, before he gets on the psychotic ranting train he is actually making some reasonably good points about the suffering that could be avoided if immortality, or at least immunity to disease, could be made more widespread. (The suffering that would follow from resource depletion, until people learned to stop breeding, isn't mentioned, but hey, he is the villain.)

The action works very well too: the core team moves like people who've been working together for a very long time, who know just where each other will be and how to take advantage of it. And the great thing is that there's an economy of superpowers here: it's basically just very fast healing, including recovery from fatal wounds after some delay. So our heroes can't just charge in ignoring enemy fire: they will get hit, and fall down, and stop moving, and there are only so many times you can get away with playing "the enemy thinks I'm dead". So mostly they have to be really good fighters on a mundane level: sure, somewhat cinematic ones, but someone remembered to include the physicality that the superhero battle scenes I see in trailers are too often missing: momentum is real, and smashing into something hurts even if you're going to get better soon. There's also narrative connection: this fight is happening with that objective in mind, which is an easy and effective way of raising the stakes of any action sequence.

Most important though is that these aren't the usual Chosen Ones who have been lifted from lives of nothingness to be told that they are Special. There's too much of that in storytelling already. These people aren't the special ones who get a VIP ticket into Cool World, they aren't having a jolly old time smashing and grabbing through history, they're doing stuff they think needs to be done and they're not at all convinced that they're even making a difference. But people still matter.

Obviously this depends heavily on Theron to sell it, first the burnout and later the maybe-something-matters-after-all, and it helps that she nails it. Other acting mostly fades into the background for me, though Marwen Kenzari and Luca Marinelli do a decent job as a gay couple whom almost everyone just accepts as unremarkable (naq jub trg gb yvir gb gur raq), and Chiwetel Ejiofor is about a notch and a half above everyone else on the "actual proper acting" scale.

All right, I was mentally arguing about a particular plot hole (I'll just say: wouldn't the iron decay over time?) even before the closing-shot teaser made it clear that there was more to find out about it than had become apparent. But we shall, or at least may, see; it's said, though not yet by any reliable source, that a sequel has been commissioned.

(I've read the first five issues of the comic, which cover about the same narrative span as the film, and I prefer the film: the art in the comic is often very evocative, but the character designs drift into parody in a way that's not possible with human actors, and the faces in the film are simply more expressive. There's also rather more complexity of plot and character here. But comics aren't a medium in which I'm particularly literate, so I may well be missing things.)

MaryAnn Johanson's review.


  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 02:58pm on 14 June 2021

    As a biologist, I was thinking... why hasn't the iron box been totally overgrown by sea creatures? Or with my geology hat on... buried in sediment?

  2. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 12:59pm on 15 June 2021

    Ooze accretion varies between one to six cms per 1000 years, so it depends.

    I only know this because of playing a game where I asked the very same question?

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