Women fight action clichés

Updated: Sep 4

htThe Old Guard challenges traditional action movie conceits by putting women front and center as director and stars. Sure, D.C.’s Wonder Woman already did that—but with colorful, form fitting costumes designed to please comic book fanboys. While The Old Guard’s graphic novel source bears similarities to comics, the team dresses in practical army gear.

Granted, military attire fails to hide the great genes that bless Charlize Theron or Kiki Layne, but their outfits avoid typical sexualization associated with the genre. Whatever she wears, Theron’s appeal shines through, and she treads familiar ground as an action hero. After all, in Fury Road, her one-armed character already single handedly—a literal description—stole the show from Mad Max. Layne, best known as a lovely young woman in If Beale Street Could Talk, proves equally adept at action antics, demonstrating impressive reflexes and muscular speed. Actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mattias Schoenaerts round out the cast providing their usual strong performances.

Better yet, director Gina Prince-Bythwood blends action genre staples with a welcome addition, showcasing characters whose emotions go beyond the kneejerk responses that make so many action heroes seem like they came from a factory production line. The director gives her cast members the chance to bypass bulging chests and focus on deeper conflicts, including the personal impacts of their job. That job involves killing people—bad guys of course. Still, it proves a wearing process for a group of immortals whose work never ends.

The Old Guard team members face both turmoil and frustration as they question the value of their violence, especially since we mortals keep undermining all those good efforts. Screenwriter Greg Rucka provides a well-conceived script, though a couple of characters make amazingly stupid choices—a staple of the action genre that keeps the story rolling. Still, the overall project looks different, with immortals focusing on human qualities that put a new spin on an old form.

Like many projects, original plans put The Old Guard in theaters with hopes of starting a franchise. Instead, it headed straight for Netflix, where it now ranks as one of the service’s most popular entries.

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© 2019 by Robin Holabird
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