Directed by Stanley Tong.
Starring Jackie Chan, Yang Yang, Allen Ai Lun, Miya Muqi, Zhu Zhengting, Desmond Aldridge, Can Aydin, Sayed Badreya, Ruohan Xu, Barret Coates, and Fady Zaky.
Covert security company Vanguard is the last hope of survival for an accountant after he is targeted by the world’s deadliest mercenary organization.
Into his 60s and still refusing to dial back his action flick output, Jackie Chan once again collaborates with Stanley Tong (the Rumble in the Bronx filmmaker has seen better days himself) for a globetrotting pro-China secret security feature in Vanguard that comes close to having a few decent set pieces that typically end up bogged down by either terrible CGI, overproduced visuals, awkward camera angles, and severe disorientation from a lack of fluidity which is a fairly essential thing when it comes to close-quarters combat.
The most notable example of this is a jet ski chase sequence that I’m sure sounded like a great idea on paper and even in execution has its exciting moments due to the commitment from the talent on-screen and shooting in an actual river (although the chaos is badly digitally touched up to the point where the scene looks more appealing in the behind-the-scenes look during the ending credits) but is also a jumbled mess. Again, but it’s also the most exhilarating thing to be found in Vanguard.
The gist of the story involves a kidnapped accountant who apparently knows the location of an obscene amount of money following the death of his former business partner that was up to some shady dealings. Nevertheless, his son is determined to obtain the location of the money and is described as someone that will do anything for it, just in case you’re wondering what kind of generically motivated one-dimensional villains are on display here. Really, it’s just all nonsense for Jackie Chan’s Tang Huating to step away from his desk job at the company teaming up with some of the security members to do a number of things from retrieving the accountant, protecting the accountant’s wildlife activist daughter in Africa (Complete with embarrassing CGI animals, an artistic choice that makes no sense since there is a real lion on-set during behind-the-scenes footage, leading me to presume that animals didn’t want to be a part of this misfire), invading a military compound, and eventually, a high-speed chase all over Dubai which, after seeing some Fast and Furious films might sound tantalizing, but I assure you here suffers from the same incoherence issues as everything else despite occasionally having a glimmer of excitement.
Along the way, Vanguard takes a few amusing shots at gun-toting American hunters, a crack at Jackie Chan’s inability to do extreme stunts anymore (although he still gets a few nice moves in here and there), and seems to forget what it wants to be during the middle stretch shifting to something more militarized and serious despite having a limousine doing a 180 in the first act. Whenever Vanguard at least tries to embrace how lazily cliché it is and get a bit silly, there’s a tiny amount of fun to be found. It also makes what is either a terrible English translation or a flat-out bizarre dialogue more tolerable. Perhaps there would be something better here if the film didn’t take its sweet time setting up the next action sequence and stuck to chase sequences that feel mildly inspired.
Tang’s younger partners naturally get more to do in the way of combat, but they have no personality or character. They exist to either fall in love or spread the importance of family. Meanwhile, Vanguard has a framing device of taking place during the Chinese new year which is entirely inconsequential outside of whatever marketing purposes were planned for the initial January release date. On that note, 2020 is such a barren cinematic wasteland for obvious reasons that Vanguard will be getting an IMAX release in some US theaters, which will most likely prove to be obnoxiously loud and a strain on the eyes.
Jackie Chan will always have a small amount of star power, so it’s easy to root for this to be something that could entertain audiences that feel comfortable going to movie theaters, but anyone that sees it is going to come away more than ever hoping he sticks to voice animation or working with directors that have stronger creative ideas for him.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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