[Old Guard] New Action

I grew up on action films. They are, when I think about going to see a movie, the genre I imagine myself watching. And yet it feels like right now we are in the midst of an action movie lull. Or maybe it is just an action movie shift.

No doubt there is a lot of action in films these days. All the biggest blockbusters from the past decade are filled with lightsaber duels or more pervasively, superhuman feats. And, based on someone’s view on what makes a movie an action movie, it could be argued that the classic action flick has migrated into superhero multi-verses (more specifically Marvel, DC seems to think they are making dramas). 

But I tend not to see it that way, not because I find the argument invalid, but because I am still rooting for a revival of the old types of action films. Bring me your Die Hards and Con Airs, your Terminators and Rambos. Bring me those unique stories full of heroes in every shape and size imbued with no power but their own force of will. Bring me that action and inject that adrenaline straight into my veins. 

I have nothing against superhero films, but they just don’t do the same thing for me. They keep layering and adding and getting bigger and more complex, which is awesome for the multi-verse and for movies in general but lacks the simplicity and straightforwardness I have come to equate with action films. Also, as each new hero is added, I can’t help but feel like we’ve been there before, especially now that the ultimate payoff of Endgame has happened. What are we re-building towards? What could be next?

Maybe this is the phenomena that ended the action flicks of the 80’s and 90’s. Everyone probably got tired of the Die Hard template after we saw Die Hard on a plane, and Die Hard in the White House, and Die Hard in a mall. Maybe superhero films were the necessary spark that brought in a new wave and style to tired tropes. Replace the ordinary with extraordinary, the feasible with the impossible, the simple with the mind boggling, a building with a universe and we have fresh action the world is dying to see.

I respect that. And I am convincing myself that this evolution of old action movies into superhero films is true. And if that is true, then I hope the pendulum eventually swings back in the opposite direction. Old Guard may be a taste of that return swing, both literally and metaphorically. 

Literally, this film fits the action category of old…. kind of. More accurately, it seems to be the evolutionary missing link between superhero films and classic action movies (third from the right on the monkey-to-man evolution chart). Old Guard’s storyline is all action film of old with rich corporate bad guys and abductions and double crosses and guns and guns and guns shedding bullet casings everywhere.

But the vestiges of the superhero films have not been completely unselected from Old Guard’s storyline. The story is based on graphic novels which feels very ‘superhero’ film. The heroes have superhuman powers and the film ends with a cliffhanger and a continuation of the story that seems like the building of a bigger universe. Attributes that make it seem like the missing link in the evolutionary return to classic action films more than a complete throwback to a previous era.

Metaphorically, Old Guard is about heroes who have been fighting for a long time, old school heroes in a modern world if you will. Said like that, it seems like a subtle nod to the origins of action and bringing them back in front of the cozy seats of theaters everywhere. Also, Andy (played by Charlize Theron) loses her superpowers throughout the film (see what they’re doing here?). She also spends a large portion of the movie interacting and training with a new hero in her army, effectively preparing for a future she will not be a part of.

THE OLD GUARD – Charlize Theron as ÓAndy” Photo credit: Aimee Spinks/NETFLIX ©2020

Now is as good a time as any to address the fact, that for the first time ever, a woman is the number one action hero in movies. Charlize Theron is incredible in Old Guard and all anyone needs to do is also watch Mad Max: Fury Road to know she can and will carry any action movie she is in.

However, she is ‘old guard,’ and the torch is being passed down to Niles (played by Kiki Layne) in preparation for a future of up and coming action stars in a future bright with the lights illuminating theaters all across America as they play new action films. 

So Old Guard is a good film. I enjoyed it. But I was much more interested in the type of film it was and what it may portend for the new guard of filmmaking. Because I read some signals that this film is taking us into an old direction in a new way. I look forward to that possibility. 

Or it could just be a way to have bullets and explosions and gory injuries. I will wait to find out.

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