That puts The Old Guard, a Netflix production based on a comic book by Greg Rucka (who also scripted) in an awkward position. Despite a clearly substantial budget and starry cast, it feels closer to an overblown TV pilot than to spectacle on the Marvel scale.
Charlize Theron is Andy, one of a small band of immortal warriors with the ability to heal at miraculous speed. Living among us undetected, they work as globetrotting mercenaries but save more lives than they take, serving on balance as benefactors of the human race.
Harry Melling (he played Dudley Dursley in Harry Potter) is a villain who wants to capture the heroes for scientific experiments, while Chiwetel Ejiofor is an CIA agent who becomes an ambiguous go-between.
It’s a simple and familiar tale, put across rather sluggishly by director Gina Prince-Bythewood; how he went from Oprah-approved heartwarmer The Secret Life of Bees to this is a puzzle.
The fight scenes have a degree of flair, especially when they emulate the John Wick tactic of framing combatants from head to toe (some credit surely belongs to second-unit director Jeff Habberstad, a stunt expert who worked on recent Marvel films).
But they also have the artificial, overly clean look of the cutscenes in a video game, suggesting that a fair degree of digital tweaking has occurred even when we’re watching the actors rather than their doubles.
What appeal there is stems mainly from Theron who, if not quite immortal in real life, has an ageless quality that makes it easy to forget she’s been a star for more than two decades.
The Old Guard plays up her androgynous chic, in an understated black wardrobe and a fringed pixie cut. Behind sunglasses she almost suggests a willowy boy – yet the effect isn’t to de-emphasise gender but the reverse, since even as a battle-hardened veteran she shows much more visible emotion than most male action stars.
Andy’s comrades include a male couple who first met while fighting on opposite sides in the Crusades, and who proudly declare (and demonstrate) their love in defiance of their foes.
By modern TV standards, this is nothing very unusual – but the Marvel movies haven’t quite got there yet.