"I've been here before, over and over again, and each time the same question: will this be it? Will this time be the one? And each time the same answer. I'm just so tired of it."
This is the first piece of dialogue offered from Andromache of Scythia (Charlize Theron), also known as Andy; and with this piece of dialogue, we are pushed in the world of Netflix's latest original, The Old Guard. Nevertheless, ten minutes into the film, I find that I cannot stop repeating those lines, word for word, in my head:
I've been here before, over and over again.
Over the past 20 years, the film industry has been saturated with movies of outsiders turned heroes, mutants turned heroes, villain turned heroes, and people with supernatural abilities—you guessed it, turned into heroes. So, when I watched the trailer for The Old Guard, I found myself intrigued, but disappointed in the possibility of this being yet another hero's journey poorly handled.
The Old Guard | Official Trailer | Netflix www.youtube.com
I asked myself: will this be it? Will this be the movie that finally understands that Black characters are more than sidekicks (excluding Black Panther, that was the exception, not the rule)? Will this movie finally offer characters that produce more than one line of dialogue, despite their comic book characters being vital to the story at hand (looking at you, Ororo "Storm" Munroe)? Will this be the movie where the black woman is more than her race and her ability? Will this time be the one?
I know that if not, I couldn't bare to discover the same answer, because like the film's protagonist Andy, I'm just so tired of it.
Yet, when the two-hour-and-five-minute movie relinquished its final second, played out by Ellie King's Baby Outlaw, I found a new answer to the question posed over and over again. This film might not be the definitive "it" we're looking for, but it is a damn good start.
In 2017, renowned comic book creators Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández debuted The Old Guard, a comic book series about immortal soldiers who have been fighting for centuries. Within months of its debut, Skydance Media picked up the rights to the comic. By Summer 2018, the film gained momentum with its landing of the acclaimed director of Love & Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees, Gina Prince-Bythewood. A year later, the film would cast an all-star cast after teaming up with Netflix.
The story of The Old Guard follows a ban of mercenaries led by Andy, a woman who has been alive since ancient Greece. The mercenaries have lived through many wars. Two of its members fought as enemies in the Crusade and another fought during the War of 1812, but now they have encountered a real threat to their survival: a businessman with a God complex. Which cues in two of our most important Black characters: James Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne).
Meet James Copley
Played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Copley requests the reactivation of the group of mercenaries after the kidnapping of girls in Sudan. It is through his request that the movie unravels, and it's through his actions that the characters are inadvertently placed within harm's way. Throughout most of the movie, James Copley regresses and progresses as a character should. His biggest issues lie within himself and his misguided good intentions, which we all know paves the road to hell. The best part of Ejiofor's character lies within what he is not. In the last twenty years, characters similar to Copley have not been lacking in media.
Hollywood loves having a black leader, only for them to become speed bumps in the hero's journey or the overall story's plot line.
This was seen with both versions of Amanda Waller (Arrow and Suicide Squad) where despite her importance in the creation of the Suicide Squad and Argus, she became a means to an end for the hero, without much substance other than the fact that she was meant to be the villain. The same can be said for Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, who hasn't been developed much within the Marvel cinema world. With the arrival of Ejiofor's James Copley, there is a chance for him tor remain an essential character throughout the series.
A chance for him to be important beyond the world of the heroes, as well as a chance for him to actively be one himself.
Meet Nile Freeman
Nevertheless, despite Copley's character growth throughout the film, he is not the hero we're looking for. Instead, our hero can be found in Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne). It is through Nile that we are introduced into the world of the immortal mercenaries, and it is through Nile that we choose whether to stay. Written as a strong, hero's journey, Nile finds herself becoming the newest member of the Guard. Unlike most superheroes, she was one before she gained abilities. And unlike most superheroes, Nile wanted nothing more than to return to her normal life.
It is interesting seeing a character come into herself and it is even more interesting to see the limitless possibilities they have with this character introduction.
A lot of Nile's journey is handled with care. What can be the most bothersome thing about movies with heroes is how quick they are to give up the life that made them, for a life of uncertainty and gore. Yet, Nile doesn't agree to the life so quickly. Instead, she approaches it cautiously, even rejecting it outright when it doesn't correlate with the beliefs that made her who she is. It is refreshing to watch KiKi Layne as Nile Freeman. She does well with balancing between a fierce immortal soldier and someone worried about the erasure of their old life. Throughout the film, she is easy to root for, but this is due largely to Layne. Nile's character's inability to just go along with the mercenaries could be frustrating.
Yet, Layne shows a balance between what Nile is willing to give and what she isn't. This is best shown within her scenes with Theron and Ejiofor, where she has to decide to be the hero she was meant to be or return to the life she has always known.
Another enjoyable thing about Nile's character is the room for growth. Throughout the film, Nile's character experiences exceptional character growth. Still, the audience can see that she isn't fully developed and has a way to go. Which is fine because her development within this film is enough for now. Nevertheless, it will be exciting to see what Nile can become in the future, should Netflix and SkyMedia choose to make a sequel.
Overall, The Old Guard tells the ending of a hero's journey while birthing another. It has strong female characters, strong characters of color, positive representation for all communities, and provides a hero worth believing in. This movie understands that Black characters are more than sidekicks, because without Ejiofor and Layne's characters, this particular story wouldn't exist. This movie offered characters that are essential in the comics and kept them essential to the film—they even elevated Nile from the comic book for the movie.
This movie is one where the black woman is more than her race and her ability, because it cemented itself in who she is and what she believes in.
This movie, like the comic, is step in a new different direction I, for one, am excited to see.
And who could get tired of that?
Notice Me Noticing:
- Similar to Luke Cage, there is a beauty in seeing Black characters rise after being shot. Same for gay characters.
- Dudley from Harry Potter grew up to remain an ass.
- The soundtrack was impressive. Highlights: Frank Ocean - "Godspeed", Marshmello ft. Khalid - "Silence", Active Child - "Cruel Word", and Ruelle - "The World We Made"
- There are four main characters of color: Nile Freeman, James Copley, Joe, and Quynh.
The Old Guard is now streaming.
Featured image by NETFLIX