Nobody can deny that Jackie Chan was one of the most talented action heroes of his time, having risen to stardom with films such as Drunken Master and Project A. And he’s back! Well, sort of. Almost.
Vanguard is a spy action-adventure film directed by Stanley Tong, a director who has collaborated with Chan on several films such as Rumble In the Bronx and Police Story 3: Supercop. This is yet another film delayed by the pandemic, but it was released in China in September and is now getting a theatrical release in North America.
While at face value, this appears to be a Jackie Chan action vehicle in the vein of Police Story or Rush Hour, Chan is now 66 years old; to expect him to pull off his death-defying stunts of the ’80s and ’90s would be unrealistic. Chan instead has a supporting role as Tang Huanting, the chief of a covert security company named Vanguard, which must protect an accountant from a team of bad guys.
Chan is not the leader of this action-packed adventure. Much of the film’s stuntwork comes from actors Yang Yang, Ai Lun, and Miya Muqi, who all do a fantastic job of bringing the script’s many complex action setpieces to life, despite the script not offering much more besides that.
Some action movies combine thrilling action sequences with well-rounded characters, such as Mission: Impossible — Fallout and Die Hard. Others offer nothing more than a fun time at the movies, such as films from the Bad Boys and Fast & Furious series. Vanguard is very much a part of the latter category, throwing countless scenes of excitement with very little below the surface.
This is a silly movie. The action scenes are bombastic, plentiful, and over-the-top, feeling straight out of a Michael Bay film. We have some classic Jackie Chan moments of punching things and then yelling in pain, along with some improvised weapons and practical stuntwork.
Unlike early Chan films, he spent much of the film shooting bad guys with guns instead of hand-to-hand combat, which may upset fans of his earlier work, but allows for very entertaining (albeit mindless) shootout sequences throughout the film.
There are moments of international espionage scenes intercut with the film’s plentiful explosion-fueled action scenes. Unfortunately, Tong doesn’t helm the fights with as much clarity as his earlier work, with fight scenes that are not unintelligible but would have been more enjoyable had the camera stayed more still.
It’s an undeniably ridiculous movie, as we have a hero who shoots bad guys from what appears to be a Green Goblin glider along with scenes that will have you questioning the laws of physics the way you would if Vin Diesel were starring in this film.
While much of the film’s entertainment value comes from the action, there is little else to the film’s direct-to-VOD script. The bad guys in this movie are completely forgettable. There isn’t one memorable villain, and the only purpose of the bad guys is to stand around, shoot, and fight the good guys.
Their evil plan is to kidnap an accountant and his daughter. How original. Furthermore, the film introduces a villain with half an hour left in the movie and goes nowhere with him. The film's antagonists have nothing interesting about them, and the ending barely gives them any comeuppance.
Vanguard’s lack of characterization does not stop with the villains, as the heroes have very little compelling besides the fact that they have families and children. The occasional moments intended to pull the heartstrings and get us to care are few and far between, as the film is more focused on exciting action than story and character.
The story serves primarily as a vehicle to throw more chases, gunfights, and martial arts battles at the screen. The dialogue can be very clunky, laughable, and explicit in its deliverance of exposition. The acting isn’t great, it’s not as funny as it could be, and Tong does very little with the team dynamic.
Is this a good film? Not really. But there is guilty pleasure material written all over this film, along with a hilarious joke near the end which references the climactic stunt of Police Story. The film also utilizes a bit too much mediocre CGI, with an entire sequence involving a computer-generated lion that does not look great.
We also have the occasional nationalist propaganda, with a character going, “Captain China is mightier than Captain America!” There’s very little subtlety in these scenes, but this is not a terrible movie despite the issues. It’s an acceptable adventure that doesn’t hold a candle to Chan’s early works but provides passable popcorn entertainment throughout its reasonable runtime.