Let us get the good news about Vanguard out of the way first: Its makers really, really tried to craft a reasonably goofy action extravaganza, complete with set pieces that defy the laws of gravity, physics and common sense. Such disregard for expectations of taste can be and, in the past, has been something virtuous for filmmakers who have decided to throw all caution to the wind. If something is silly, the rules should leave a lot of room for that thing to be as silly as it wants. Curiously, in writing and directing the picture, Stanley Tong apparently severed the communication between his figurative left and right hands. He has directed something with all the signs of a big, bombastic, amusing production (whether it has been skillfully done is a topic for later) but written a humorless action-thriller.

This is surprising for Tong, the filmmaker behind a handful of movies that got this mixture just right, nearly all of them starring Jackie Chan. The Harold-Lloydian master of making martial arts look like physical comedy also appears here as the commanding officer of a group of military elites, but Tong makes Chan wait nearly an hour before getting into the action. Before that, the plot follows a fairly straightforward kidnapping and the paramilitary strategy to reclaim the victims. Those would be wealthy Chinese businessman Qin (Jackson Lou) and his younger wife, taken in London while a Chinese New Year parade is such a bustling, happening event that no one notices. Qin’s captor is to bring him to stereotypical Middle Eastern terrorist Omar (Eyad Hourani), who’s out for revenge.

This prompts Tang, the leader of the Vanguard Special Forces played by Chan, to set two promising agents, Lei (Yang Yang) and Kaixuan (Ai Lun), the task of retrieving Qin’s conservationist daughter Fareeda (Xu Ruohan) from the wilds of Africa. The race that ensues is essentially the extent of the plot, which eventually finds an excuse to pit Tang and Omar against each other. The details of this plot are all completely sincere, with fakeouts and twists and mean violence and a whole heap of grossly nationalistic fervor and shamelessly militaristic jingoism. That’s all a little jarring when taken in the context of Tong’s clearly wacky approach to the action beats, which are all a few silly sound effects and maybe a speech bubble away from being pratfalls.

It’s a complete tonal mishmash, which wouldn’t be such a problem if the tones weren’t at odds to this degree. The actors are all imprecise and wooden, straddled with ludicrous dialogue that only serves to explain exactly where we are in the plot at any given moment, and that sadly includes Chan’s deer-in-the-headlights act. Then one gets to the digital effects employed to bring much of this to life – from the unfortunate renderings of some lions being protected by Fareeda, to a chase involving a number of garishly gold cars, to a pursuit down a raging river and toward a steep waterfall. None of it is convincing, and all of it has been edited with the finesse of a toddler with a hacksaw. Vanguard didn’t need to do much to work. It goes so far over the top in response that it’s just an overexcited bore.

Summary
None of it is convincing, and all of it has been edited with the finesse of a toddler with a hacksaw.
30 %
Overexcited Bore
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