10 July 2020 14:36
The aforementioned attempts to permit non-straight characters into franchise fare were viewed by some as an indication of a more accepting industry, one that was also finally allowing women and people of colour to save the world alongside white straight men. But from Josh Gad fleetingly dancing with another man in a Disney movie (obnoxiously heralded in press at the time as an "exclusively gay moment"), to John Cho seen with what we can sort of guess is his male partner in a Star Trek sequel (a confirming kiss was cut, obviously), to being told after the fact that Tessa Thompson, Kate McKinnon, Donald Glover, Ryan Reynolds and Kristen Stewart were playing queer characters (despite no on-screen proof), it's all been embarrassingly and infuriatingly coy. So imagine my surprise, having grumbled about this tiresome tactic on many occasions, when an hour into Netflix's glossy new Charlize Theron-led summer adventure The Old Guard, two central male characters kiss. In 2020, it really shouldn't be such a big deal, but watching a form of unfettered queer love exist within the confines of a fantastical comic book adaptation, aimed at a wide audience, felt major to me. I've long desired to see gay characters in genres other than "gay movie" and seeing two men kill the bad guys while finding time to spoon and flirt provided a thrill I'd not yet experienced in my many years of blockbuster-watching.
The film tells the tale of a group of immortal mercenaries whose ability to regenerate after death has made them powerful weapons across time. The team includes Joe (Tunisian-Dutch actor Marwen Kenzari, best known for playing Jafar in the live-action Aladdin) and Nicky (Italian actor Luca Marinelli who won an award at Venice last year for his role in Martin Eden), revealed early on to also be a couple, whose love is as undying as their bodies are. Joe responds with such a sweet, unabashed, lengthy description of their love ("His kiss still thrills me, even after a millennium"), that it shocks both the henchmen watching and us, the audience, programmed by years of studio neutering to expect very little. Screenwriter Greg Rucka, adapting from his own source material, told Entertainment Weekly that he demanded any version of the film kept the relationship intact ("I wanted a happy queer couple," he said). Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, the first black female director to take on a major comic-book movie, said this speech was one of the reasons she signed on.
The movie sees the group go face-to-face with villainous scientist Merrick (Harry Melling), who seeks to capture them and use their powers for profit, and former contact Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who thinks Merrick is doing it for the good of humanity. Copley sees the error of his ways, but not in time as the entire team – bar Nile (KiKi Layne) – is captured after being betrayed by Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts). It doesn't end well for Merrick as he's killed by a combination of Andy and Nile, and a fall from the penthouse floor of a very tall building. The team regroups and Booker is banished for 100 years after his betrayal, while Copley is given the task of ensuring the group remain ghosts to protect them from people like Merrick, as well as finding them "jobs that are best suited to us". He walks into his place and finds none other than former Old Guard member Quynh (Veronica Ngo): "Booker... If you weren't paying attention earlier in the movie, Quynh was the first immortal that Andy found. Nile finds out about Quynh's horrific fate when she tells the group that she dreams of a woman dying again and again in an iron coffin. Before the likes of Booker, Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) joined the group, it was just Andy and Quynh with the duo fighting "thousands of battles side-by-side". "She's lived with that guilt ever since, but she blames herself for Quynh's fate," Joe tells Nile, with Andy later admitting that she gave up searching for her: "I made Quynh a promise, and I broke it." Greg Rucka – who adapted his comic book for the movie – has written a second Old Guard comic book called that follows how Quynh's return affects the team. Given how faithful the first movie was to the source material, it's likely that the sequel will follow a similar pattern if it happens. The Old Guard is available to watch now on Netflix. Have you devoured The Old Guard on Netflix yet? Of course you have – it's a Charlize Theron-starring superhero movie available to watch at home right now! We saw the origins of KiKi Layne's new immortal Nile Freeman and even the movie took us back in time to witness a few other major events play out. Before we get into The Old Guard ending, a quick warning: Spoilers! This article contains major spoilers for Netflix's The Old Guard!! During a set of interviews for The Old Guard, GamesRadar+ sat down with director Gina Prince-Bythewood to ask about what's coming next, and how Quynh factors into that. So, Theron's Andy versus Ngo's Quynh and a bunch of other not-immortal but still very evil villains? Theron stars as Andromache of Scythia (Andy for short), the leader of a squad of immortal warriors who have spent centuries fighting for what they think is right, based on their lived experiences over all those years. Finally, there's Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne), a U.S. Marine and the low-key star of this story. Her awakening into immortality is a piece of what sets the movie's story into motion, and it's through her that we learn many of the rules of this world. The Old Guard on Netflix is a great reminder of how satisfying it is to see Charlize Theron kick some ass. Intriguing characters like Chiwetel Ejiofor's Copley and Veronica Ngo's Quynh beg for more development, but that will have to wait for another story. None of that takes away from the basic fact that The Old Guard is a welcome showcase of Theron's natural ability to lead an action movie with energy and deadly precision. The Old Guard is available to stream on Netflix starting July 10.