Review: Queer Immortals at the Heart of 'The Old Guard'

by Megan Kearns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday July 10, 2020

'The Old Guard'
'The Old Guard'  

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, "The Old Guard" is an unconventional superhero film, based on the comics and starring Charlize Theron and KiKi Layne. It features powerful queer characters and ponders weighty, existential topics, such as morality, fate, scientific testing, bodily autonomy, and the ramifications of violence. The film also advocates that benevolence and community can save us.

Four immortal mercenaries living in secret are discovered by an enemy wanting to exploit their powers. They are led by Andromache of Scythia, "the eternal warrior," a.k.a. Andy (Charlize Theron). After discovering a new immortal, they have a new ally amidst new complications.

Andy wants to help others, but she's cynical and jaded. She's emotionally fatigued from her burdens: Time, regret, and grief. While flawed or reluctant superheroes exist, they typically aren't women on-screen. Theron is a masterful actor who conveys so much with her facial expressions and body language. She has arguably dabbled in superhero adjacent terrain before ("Hancock," "Aeon Flux," "Mad Max: Fury Road"). Like Furiosa, Andy is assertive, powerful, and exhausted from the oppressions she has witnessed and endured. Nile (KiKi Layne, who exudes resilience and tenderness) is a Marine; she's self-assured, inquisitive, and contemplative. She seeks to make sense out of chaos. It's fantastic to see their camaraderie, and for a Black woman to be the superhero savior.

There is some great fight choreography in the film. Andy and Nile battle on a tilting plane. Andy single-handedly combats numerous soldiers in a church, fluidly moving, arching, and spinning while wielding a sword in one hand and a gun in the other. It's an exhilarating scene.

"The Old Guard" is the queer superhero movie we need now.

We rarely see LGBTQ superheroes onscreen. Greg Rucka, screenwriter and creator of "The Old Guard" comics, frequently writes queer characters, particularly queer women: Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Dex Parios in "Stumptown," and Andy. In "The Old Guard," immortals Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) are queer men in a romantic relationship. They kiss, affectionate with each other. When they encounter homophobia from a foe, Joe gives an incredibly beautiful and impassioned monologue, declaring his undying love across centuries for Nicky. In the comics, Andy is queer, as she's attracted to women and men. As a bi woman myself, I yearn for more positive bi representation. In the film, Andy never explicitly declares her sexual orientation, but none of the characters do. Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts) jokes about Andy knowing artist Rodin "biblically." We also see Andy's love for her previous female partner Quynh (Veronica Ngo). They say to each other, "Just you and me." "Until the end." Quynh was her partner, on the battlefield and in life. While I always appreciate explicit representation, the way the film depicts queerness subverts compulsive heteronormativity. It refreshingly and radically presumes a queer normativity. The immortals also created their own family, something many of us in the LGBTQ community must do if our biological families reject us.

I'm a huge fan of Gina Prince-Bythewood's work, so I was eager to see her perspective on superheroes. This is a unique film of the genre that takes its time, letting the full spectrum of its emotions reveal and unfold slowly. Immortality appears tantalizing: Having unending time, sidestepping sickness and aging. But "The Old Guard" conveys the torturous loss, brutality, and weight of pain and guilt of losing loved ones, reminiscent of "Fast Color," another woman-directed, unorthodox superhero film utilizing the genre to explore complex issues.

Andy feels apathy, ennui, and nihilism, believing nothing matters. She says, "The world can burn for all I care," and "Humanity can screw itself." She perceives time punishes her, akin to Sisyphus, leaving her to push uphill in perpetuity. Nile, buoyed by her faith, doesn't want to kill senselessly, and yearns for a deeper meaning. Andy eventually realizes, through Nile, that her actions helped myriad people throughout the years.

"The Old Guard" provides LGBTQ representation and presents an escapist fantasy, as superhero films do, while excavating deeper truths about humanity. Andy tells Nile that she helped her "remember what it was like to feel unbreakable." In such volatile and uncertain times, we all could benefit from feeling unbreakable, even for a moment.