There has been a problem with watching other people’s work via the medium of cinema for some time. It first manifested around the time of Skyfall in 2012, when I was writing my own version of the 007 Canon. It started as a general disquiet over how other people chose to present cinematic narrative, and with only a handful of exceptions, I get very little enjoyment out of movies.
The problem is simple: it really does not matter how much clever visual shit you throw into my timeline. You can blow stuff up, kill hundreds of extras in increasingly gruesome or violent fashion, but if your narrative framework is not absolutely and completely watertight, your performances superlative, and most crucially the motivation for your concept authentic? Nope, leave immediately.
Last night, watching The Old Guard left me so very wanting.
When you watch people rave about a film in the manner that other people are, it clearly ticks lots of boxes. I’m not going to give the plot away, because that’s mean, but what I will say is if your whole modus operandi is difference, use it consistently. Also, I am not totally enamoured by any of the performances here. Atomic Blonde is a better Charlize Theron movie.
The biggest problem with it however is undoubtedly the last fifteen minutes, when it becomes apparent I’m not watching a stand-alone movie but a pilot for an episodic franchise. I know we all have to thank the MCU for its contribution to narrative development in cinema, but if now all I’m going to get is a set of clones of that format, I’m not best pleased.
Lessons need to be learnt here on how to build your Universe better.
The redeeming feature in the MCU’s approach to the concept is to understand that reinforcing the rules is undoubtedly easier the more movies you make. It allows a more thorough examination of other concepts and ideas, that then feed back into the collective pool of serial continuity. Captain Marvel is a wonderful stand-alone introduction that uses the past to benefit from various events in the future we grasp, but the characters don’t.
The Old Guard is painted on too large a canvas, in my opinion. The one movie should have been two films, which would have given far more strength and depth to a story where the protagonists are not nearly in as much peril as is really required to build solid character development. All the MCU’s strongest heroes are not born that way, but made along the way.
However, some things were absolutely perfectly pitched.
If you want to know what I’ve enjoyed immensely in the last couple of months? The Lego Movie 2. It didn’t try to be anything else than what it was, used characterization and plot really well, building on a franchise with respect and confidence. The problem, as an author, is knowing what you expect of yourself to make a good story, and when these people get paid millions to do it and come up short?
It’s a great way to ruin your own enjoyment.