Jackie Chan's work in the '80s and '90s was amazing to watch. In films like Police Story, Rumble in the Bronx, Supercop, and Project A, he combined virtuoso martial arts training with comedy to create something truly special. The American Rush Hour franchise cemented his status as a genre legend. Chan's pictures typically ended with an “injury reel” showing the ways he got hurt doing spectacular stunts, all for our viewing pleasure.
Those injuries, combined with the natural effects of aging, have taken a toll, though, leaving the actor less able to do what he once did. As such, many of his movies from 2010 on – The Spy Next Door, The Foreigner, etc. – have felt watered down and unsatisfying. Vanguard can unfortunately be added to that list.
Chan plays Tang Huating, the owner of a covert security agency. One of his clients, a wealthy businessman, is being targeted by a Middle Eastern militia for reasons that are never quite clear. To get to him, they also go after his daughter, who is a wildlife conservationist. She's simultaneously being hunted by a ruthless poacher. Tang assembles his team, consisting of young agents Lei Zhenyu (Yang Yang) and Mi Ya (Miya Muqi), to protect both of them.
The key word there is “young.” Vanguard finds Jackie Chan letting his co-stars do the brunt of the physical work. A fight sequence in a kitchen, led by Yang, is the kind of battle Chan once would have done himself. It involves using anything and everything within reach as a weapon, flipping over counters, etc. Although effectively choreographed, no one does that sort of semi-comedic fight with the panache that Chan used to, so it feels like an homage to his work performed by someone else, rather than an original concept.
The star does see some action during a group fight that occurs while careening down white water rapids. At the same time, CGI was obviously used to achieve the sequence, meaning it's far less exciting than watching him slide down the side of a skyscraper like he did in Who Am I? or dangle from a helicopter rope ladder as in Supercop. CGI fells several scenes in Vanguard, for that matter. A high-speed car chase has shots with all-too-apparent computer-generated automobiles, sapping its excitement value. A scene in the African jungle is similarly diminished by not-entirely-convincing animals.
Chan reunites with Stanley Tong, the director of Rumble in the Bronx and First Strike, for this movie. Clearly, the intention was to make a film that plays like an old-school Jackie Chan adventure, albeit one that takes advantage of digital possibilities. But Chan is sidelined here, doing minimal action, and his co-stars lack the charisma that he has in spades. Add in an incoherent story and an unmemorable villain, and Vanguard misses its goal by a mile.
out of four
Vanguard is unrated, but contains PG-13 level fighting violence. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.