Review by Sean Boelman
These days, everyone is desperately craving escapism in their movies, and Vanguard, the latest team-up for filmmaker Stanley Tong and action star Jackie Chan (who previously worked together on Rumble in the Bronx and other cult classics), does just that. Stupid and generic, but fun for what it is, there’s enough here to please Chan’s fans, even if it isn’t anything special.
The movie follows a private security company who is hired to protect a shady accountant when he is targeted by a group of skilled mercenaries. Like so many big globe-trotting martial arts spectacles, the story is straightforward, too big for its own good, and often downright implausible. Still, that doesn’t prevent the film from being mindlessly enjoyable.
Clocking in at about ninety-five minutes before credits, the movie goes along at a breakneck pace, for better or worse. Really, it’s just a bunch of action set pieces stitched together loosely with some dialogue scenes to fill the gaps, so the very aggressive action may start to feel monotonous for some at points.
That said, Tong does a good job of introducing some variety into the action sequences. Although the choreography may not be as inspired as that of Chan’s early career, he’s also a lot older than he used to be and it’s impressive to see him still pulling off these action sequences, no matter how toned-down they may be.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the film is its overreliance on CGI effects. Although one can expect there to be some heavily-adjusted moments, the inclusion of fake lions is completely unnecessary. It ends up being quite distracting from the combat, especially since the effects often look so cartoonish.
There are also some very obvious issues with the characterization in the movie. Ridiculous names aside, there really isn’t much of an investment put into world-building. One is left to wonder who these criminal organizations are and why they are threatening beyond general malice. Worse yet, Chan’s Vanguard isn’t given much of a backstory either.
The idea here seems to be to allow Chan to pass on the torch to future generations, and in terms of the action, that works. Many of the performers in the ensemble handle the action sequences quite well. That said, the international cast that delivers a lot of the dialogue scenes isn’t as strong, having some really cheesy qualities to their performances.
Vanguard isn’t a mind-blowing return-to-form for Jackie Chan, but minus some lackluster CGI, it is at least somewhat reminiscent of his earlier hits. Despite being mostly forgettable, it’s the type of diverting entertainment that is needed right now.
Vanguard opens in theaters on November 20.