• Nate Adams

Review: Cartoonish 'Vanguard' another lazy action spectacle


Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures

With every major studio shuffling their major, theatrical worthy, releases around the evolving schedule, American exhibitors are hoping Stanley Tong’s action import “Vanguard” can entice audiences back to multiplexes. Already a massive hit overseas where it opened earlier in January, “Vanguard” is essentially being wrapped in a glossy, “we’re here to help cinema” package, when in any other year this film wouldn’t be getting nearly as huge a marketing push. It’s a big scale, massively budgeted action spectacle that knocks off the international espionage plotting  of “Mission: Impossible” and “Fast and the Furious” minus the heart. 


The film takes its title from the high-tech security agency our heroes work for, a military outfit with unlimited resources that’s essentially China’s black ops. Stationed in London and overseen by Tang Huating (Jackie Chan), Vanguard’s duties become that of protecting wealthy Chinese businessmen Qin Guoli (Jackson Lou) when English personnel become too bogged down by Chinese New Year festivities. Enter Omar (Eyad Hourani) a middle eastern stereotype out for revenge against Qin for reasons the script hardly explains and whose motives change based on what scene he’s in. He kidnaps Qin’s family, forcing other Vanguard operatives, include best buds Lei (Yang Yang) and Kaixaun (Ai Lun), to go on a globetrotting pursuit which lands them in Africa, where they’re forced to fight off poorly rendered CGI lions and cheetahs. 


To be fair, “Vanguard” draws a great deal of inspiration from the wealth of crappy American cinema, so it’s laughable how bad some of these sequences are but then again our big-budget action franchises are just as horrible, albeit, in different ways. If you think about some of the cheesy dialogue throughout “Vanguard,” it's not far removed from what Captain America might say in a Marvel movie. But Tong’s film lacks the type of physical daftness and spunky attitude superhero films thrive on and never has fun with its outlandish set pieces.


“Vanguard,” like all Tong and Chan collaborations, concludes with an end credit reel showcasing how the action was created behind the scenes. Plenty has changed since “Rumble in the Bronx,” (mainly the use of CGI vs practical effects) and Chan, at age 66, is still China’s most bankable action star who never ages. I’m glad he enjoyed making the film, but none of that infectious energy salvages a cartoonishly dull action flick with no brains and minimal brawn.


Grade: D


VANGUARD opens in theaters (that are open) Friday November 20th. 


COVID-19: Here at TheOnlyCritic.com, we’re committed to covering theatrical releases, but there’s still inherent risks in regards to going inside movie theaters. Please make sure you look up your local theaters COVID-19 guidelines and procedures before purchasing a ticket, and if you don’t feel comfortable going into a theater, please don’t. A positive review of an exclusive theatrical release is not an endorsement to put your health and safety at risk. In most cases, critics receive digital screeners or are invited to socially distanced press screenings, which defers heavily from what you might experience.