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The Old Guard is the queer superhero action film we need
In a harrowing turn of events, two of our heroes from The Old Guard find themselves in the back of an armored van surrounded by uniformed mercenaries with guns. When Joe wakes before Nicky, he checks to make sure Nicky is all right. One of the guards says, "What is he? Your boyfriend?" and his buddies chuckle.
If you'll allow, I'd like to quote Joe's response in full because it is breathtaking. "You're a child, an infant. Your mocking is thus infantile. He's not my boyfriend. This man is more to me than you can dream. He's the moon when I am lost in darkness and warmth when I shiver in cold." Nicky looks back at Joe with devotion as he continues, "And his kiss still thrills me, even after a millennium. His heart overflows with the kindness of which this world is not worthy. I love this man beyond measure and reason. He's not my boyfriend. He's all and he's more."
"You're an incurable romantic," Nicky says before leaning in to kiss Joe.
The mercenaries look at one another uncomfortably before tearing the two lovers apart.
The next scene opens with the dead body of one of those homophobes falling out of the back of the van. Nicky and Joe sit among the dead bodies of their captors nonchalantly as they face down another batch of mercenaries transporting them elsewhere.
Earlier this month, Netflix released The Old Guard, an adaptation of the comic series of the same name. The film follows five mostly immortal warriors as they try to evade being caught by the self-proclaimed youngest CEO in big pharma. (Gag.) Lil' Mr. Big Pharma, as I like to call him, decides that immortal superheroes would make excellent lab rats and as he twirls his metaphorical mustache, he sets about capturing our heroes two by two. The only catch? Well, LMBP doesn't know about the brand-new immortal who awoke and joined our merry band of… well, the Old Guard, I guess.
On top of this already compelling premise, it turns out queer representation isn't subtext, but rather a central component of the film in terms of plot points, themes, and characterization. Not one, but two queer couples appear in the film. Furthermore, half of the queer characters are people of color; Joe is a Muslim queer person from the Crusades and Quynh is Vietnamese and queer. It's worth noting because often even seemingly good queer representation can be whitewashed or white-dominated in such a way that erases the broad swaths of queerness present in reality.
Joe and Nicky's is the central romance of The Old Guard — and that's pretty revolutionary for a genre typified by hyper-masculine, hyper-hetero characters and storylines. Superhero films and action films are dominated by white, cis, straight, buff dudes curling helicopters and ripping pieces of wood in half. (I still love you, Chris Evans.) Their strength is fundamentally tied to their straightness — and that's why Joe and Nicky are such special superheroes. They're lethal, sure, but they're also strong because of how they love each other.
Joe and Nicky actually meet when killing each other while fighting on opposite sides of the Crusades. In the thousand or so years that follow, the two seem to have killed each other many more times, sure, but they've also fallen madly in love. Along the way, they become remarkable fighting partners, at times seeming more like they're dancing than they are murdering tons of people.
When one is hurt or (temporarily) killed, the other holds his breath and waits for his partner to return to him. When they're strapped to a lab table, they flirt about bedhead and reminisce about what I can only assume is the mind-blowing sex they had in Malta. When they escape the lab, they move as a unit, destroying their captors mercilessly. And when Joe hunts down the man who just killed Nicky, well, he crunches his neck in a Mortal Kombat-worthy move that is seared into my brain.
Also woven throughout the film is the story of Andy and Quynh. Told mostly through backstory (when newly-immortal Nile dreams of Quynh's perpetual death), we learn of the closeness between Andy and Quynh. Though no one comes out and waves a pride flag or sits anyone down to explain their exact sexuality, Joe likens the relationship between Andy and Quynh to his with Nicky — ahem, queer.
And if that wasn't proof enough, the loving exchange of whispers between the two during the English witch trials doesn't leave much room for interpretation. "Just you and me," Quynh whispers while looking at Andy. They're both chained to the wall awaiting their next death. Andy replies, "Until the end." Even in a dank dungeon awaiting hellish torture, these two lovebirds take the time to joke, to laugh, to affirm their commitment to one another.
When Quynh is then taken and forced into an Iron Maiden to be left to drown at the bottom of the ocean for 500 years (I know. It's truly awful.), Andy blames herself, carrying the loss of Quynh as a burden. And those 500 years later when she hears Joe tell Nile the story of her and Quynh, Andy gets visibly choked up, tears gathering in her eyes. (A teaser scene at the end of the film suggests that Quynh's story isn't over yet, which has this queerdo rooting for these ex-girlfriends to fight it out and reconcile.)
Listen, I haven't even mentioned the numerous themes and abundant queer coding throughout the film — including relying on chosen family, surviving in the face of hatred and discrimination, protecting the new baby queer, being rejected when people learn your secret, being experimented on and tortured because of who you are, and shaping history toward the better without thanks or credit.
I don't know about you folks, but this is the kind of queer content I'm looking for in my action films. Yes, I enjoy big go boom and stabby-kill-the-baddies — there's plenty of each in The Old Guard — but I also want to see my heroes fight for the right to be free, rather than because they're avenging the death of their [insert disposable female character here].
And after literal centuries of queer representation being stifled or outright destroyed by the Bury Your Gays trope, maybe immortal queer superheroes who fight for their love and murder homophobes is exactly what we deserve — and at the very least it's exactly what this rage queer needs.