Story Pile: The Old Guard

A long time ago, and by that I mean ‘before 2020’ I spoke to a friend about the Rangers from Babylon 5, where I described the telescoping bo staff for use in combat in space ships where people had space lasers and psychic powers as being both extremely sick and extremely dumb. They then thoughtfully considered that the specific intersection of those two ideas was in fact, the entirety of their jam and I kind of agree with them.

I also have spoken about how ‘queer media’ is in some cases kind of isolated to these spaces where it invokes specific varieties of heavily introspective and personal narratives. It’s your artsy queer films or single moments expanded out into whole narratives, like a repeated argument over a dinner table, that kind of thing. These narratives are not in any way bad, but I don’t like talking much about them. Partly because they are just generally not resonant with me, and partly because they aren’t fun.

I like talking about fun media.

I like talking about the media we engage with because we enjoy it. I like talking about things that excite and inspire, because I don’t think those are separate things. The idea that ‘good’ movies and ‘popular movies’ are opposite elements frustrates me, as a devotee of the subconscious matter of pulp media.

And also, like, good fun media is really hard to make? It’s treated as if it’s a lesser form because big, expensive movies do it and do it a lot, but as with TISM’s expression: pop songs aren’t just more fun, but the constraints of popular media create tension that you can’t necessarily replicate with media that explicitly resists that form.

Anyway, The Old Guard.

The Old Guard is a 2020 action comedy drama movie based on a comic book that changes some of the details of the comic but keeps the core of it. The gimmick is that you have  a group of warriors from various historical periods who don’t die when they are killed (take that fansubbers) and instead of doing a great big tournament of headlopping Highlander style, they instead hang out and try to find ways to make the world better as long as the skills required to do that are mostly limited to being very good at killing people.

Now, once you have that sort of basic concept laid out the question then becomes ‘how do you threaten people who don’t die,’ and the movie does a good job of running through the list real quick. If you’ve thought about how immortal warriors would work in a world like ours, you know most of the things that are going to come up. They’ve taken life the long way around, so they have bothered to learn about things as the world changed; they’re out of step, but only by what’s fashionable, not what’s functional. They know their way around modern and premodern and pre-premodern weapons, because they learned them as they went. At the same time, because they have literally centuries of experience with them, and most people never have to learn how to deal with them, when they bust out ancient weapons like axes and knives, they are absolutely devastating with them, and that’s cool to watch and cool to include.

The narrative that follows is solid, with twists, cool third acts, a romantic couple, some wistful looks, and is as far as action movie comic book movie stuff that isn’t your usual costume-and-sparkles special effects fest, really great to watch. Fight choreography is important, and the movie does it well. I am reluctant to say it does a ‘good job’ with the gunplay stuff here, mostly because I know people who know guns better than me who would take the opportunity to make fun, but also because when you’re dealing with people who can walk off a shotgun wound the rules of what gunplay is all about change. Either way, there’s definitely bits where people with guns keep their distance and there’s a regular use of reloading/resupplying that makes me, a gun doofus, feel like I’m noticing the movie being clever.

Solid movie, good emotional core, and fun to watch. Great. Why is it in Pride Month?

This movie features an interracial kiss between two men.

It’s not played for a joke. It’s not a one-off. It’s not part of a scheme. It is surrounded with completely open and completely honest expressions of genuine love, which is explicitly romantic. It isn’t downplayed after that point either – the kiss isn’t a dramatic moment and then the rest swept under the rug. Both men survive to the end of the movie (and okay, they’re immortals, but still). Their relationship is never a joke, it is shown in a variety of different contexts and they actually kiss.

Now I know that part of the response to this kind of thing is always, always, always ‘well, big deal,’ but like, I feel kind of like it is? I try to watch these fun movies and look out for Pride stuff every year and I feel like Atomic Blonde was an astounding stroke of luck to land in my lap. Plus, as women are more commodified, and the nature of the male gaze in cinema being what it is, two women kissing feels like the ‘easier’ way to present queer relationships, something that won’t necessarily alienate people who would otherwise recoil at two muscular men kissing. It’s a hard six, in this dice game.

It’s not a big deal, but it’s a big deal that it’s not a big deal.

This movie made a kiss between two men, one of whom wasn’t white, important to the plot, didn’t make them ridiculous parodies or mockeries, and then also made a fun good movie around the rest of the story with its own stuff going on.

That’s good. I like that.

Now do it again, movies.