REview: The Old Guard (2020) | The Action Debut of Gina Prince-Bythewood

Women directors aren’t exactly a known quantity as far as action movies go, and I suspect that that’s less a commentary on their ability to do the job than preconceived notions about what they as women can and cannot do.

And that’s a shame though it’s also a trend that’s beginning to change.

And speaking of which, Patty Jenkins couldn’t have been the first female action director. Wonder Woman came out in 2017 and I can’t imagine there were any before then.

But I’ll be damned if I can recall any – and I’m deliberately not including the directors of The Matrix trilogy because I think it’s important that they actually start as a woman, as opposed to building a career as a man, then transitioning to a woman – which is a pretty sad thing.

Though as I said, it’s something that starting to change. I mentioned Wonder Woman and there was Captain Marvel, which came out in 2019, two years later (it was directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and in hindsight I don’t think they were a good choice. Despite earning over a billion dollars at the box office. They didn’t know how to shoot action scenes and the movie lacked a certain narrative thrust).

Now there’s The Old Guard, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, based on a series of graphic novels by Greg Rucka (I’ve included an interview Rucka recently had with Kevin Smith and Mark Bernardin from Fatman On Batman).

It’s a pretty interesting story, about a group of five people who’re linked through shared history and an inability to stay dead because unlike traditional depictions of immortal beings, they can die.

The thing is, they just don’t die for particularly long as it takes time for their bodies to repair any physical damage though the movie doesn’t explain what would happen to them if you chopped off a hand, or a head.

Then again, the movie explicitly states that they have lived – and “died” for centuries, so it’s safe to assume someone in all that time had chopped off a limb or two.

The movie also doesn’t quite explain how they’re able to do what they do – and on some levels it’s a good thing because the worse thing that can happen is if their abilities are rendered mundane – but at the same time it has to be more than a case of “because they can.”

Though Prince-Bythewood has crafted a pretty good action/thriller though it’s not without it’s problems (minor as they are). I’ve read somewhere that it cost someone in the ballpark of $120 million, and I can see that because it’s a pretty gorgeous movie.

That being said, for something that is as expensive as it appears to be, it’s feels smaller, geographically speaking, that it actually is.

In other words, if often lacks a firm sense of place.

More shots to establish the oftentimes exotic locales would have been appreciated because towns and villages can easily be sets in a studio, and if that happens to be the case, what’s the point of traveling to a place in the first place?

Though her greatest weakness is that she doesn’t yet know how to film action.

The choreography of the movie is actually pretty good, though the camera often moves too quickly, and while you can easily follow the action, it’s more due to how distinctive each character looks than the action in and of itself.

In other words I was hoping that the action scenes weren’t as sharply cut as they were, and the scenes were allowed to unfold more organically (and I understand that there’s no such thing, per se as an “organically unfolding action scene)” because typically they’re all planned out meticulously.

The thing is, better action directors make it look as if it spontaneous.

Though all in all The Old Guard is an auspicious debut, and I expect her next will be even better.

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