When a high profile accountant becomes the target for a group of mercenaries known as The Arctic Wolves, the highly trained Vanguard security service mobilise to protect him and his daughter. Led by their commander (Jackie Chan), Vanguard’s mission to protect the accountant will take them from the heart of London to the plains of Africa and all the way to luxurious Dubai where an even greater threat lies in wait.
If you were ever lucky to be on a team of action heroes led by Jackie Chan, don’t expect an immediate rush to save your life if you’re kidnapped. If someone’s celebrating a birthday in the Vanguard office, everyone’s got to sing happy birthday, cut the cake, see the presents. Only then, will you be saved.
I guess my strange focus on this weird story beat in the latest Jackie Chan actioner sums up how easily disengaged I became with this film. Despite that flashy trailer at the top of the page, Vanguard isn’t original, nor is it at most times thrilling.
Vanguard’s essential plot is a slapdash cut and paste job made up of expendable trimmings from your favourite espionage team movies like Mission: Impossible. Your villains are the tired trope of cardboard cut-out middle-eastern terrorists. Oh, and in case you forgot it was a Jackie Chan film, Jackie Chan gets chased by a lion during a trip to Africa.
The plot isn’t further helped with its humour including one particular disguise choice to “avoid” friendly fire that certainly would be unacceptable in a western film. And we haven’t gotten to the promotional moments of Chinese nationalism. The height of this exercise carried out by the cringe-worthy moment of a boy declaring his father, one of the best Vanguard agents, is like his beloved Captain China; a hero even greater than Captain America. You can expect this subtly in Chinese cinema but this was just plain jarring when front and centre in a film, which this review will highlight, is a frustration to an action fan such as myself.
Questionable scenes aside, Vanguard’s plot is utter bollocks. Truthfully, I expected it to be. It’s not what I’m here for. I wasn’t expecting much with the story going into Vanguard; especially on the back of its lukewarm reception from other publications. Of course, with most Jackie Chan films, you’re here for the action.
With action films, your plot can be utter drivel and stupid beyond all measure and you can still be saved by a stellar action sequence here and there to make up for the woeful plot. But you don’t get that luxury with Vanguard as the action sequences here woefully dull. But it’s not because the cast isn’t capable or out of place with the globetrotting sequences. Chan and his team of youngsters are still very capable of action moments. Anything involving fists and kicks is absolutely fine, but there’s a more troubling aspect to these set pieces.
It is Vanguard’s over-reliance on bad distracting CGI that rob Vanguard’s action sequences of all creditability or genuine excitement.
You can understand from film to film why CGI is implemented. It could be cost-effective. It might be the best way to create a stunt safely. There are valid reasons for it. It’s absolutely common in filmmaking. But when the quality and implementation of these visual effects ranges from terrible to borderline so horrible it’s painfully funny, you don’t go along with Vanguard for the thrills. You go along with Vanguard to see how bad it gets. Even as an action fantasy, its use is awful.
You can argue I’m reading too much into this and if it wasn’t always front and centre throughout the action, I probably wouldn’t have cared much. I can accept the silliness of a limo doing a perfect drift through traffic in London. I can accept the sheer audacity of Jackie Chan jet skiing across the edge of a dangerous waterfall. But when you need CGI cars having their own indoor car chase in a populated mall, it’s inexcusable.
Suffice to say, I may have raged a bit with Vanguard and that’s not what I expected to do by the closing credits. I expected a daft, stupid, yet gloriously entertaining action romp. It’s daft, it’s stupid but it’s woefully lacking in excitement. Even if I went in with the lowest expectations, it doesn’t even soften the blow that Vanguard is just a poor film.
Vanguard (2020) - Final Thoughts
Poor CGI, lazy action set pieces and a slapdash story made up of tired action tropes makes Vanguard a frustrating, laughable and ultimately disappointing watch. It’s hard to recommend this even to the most hardcore Jackie Chan fans.
Review by Iain Boulton