“The Vanguard”is a movie that tries really hard – too hard – to be something that it isn’t: an epic, intelligent film. What it is is an hour and a half of uninteresting and poorly executed characters running around in the woods.
The movie begins with scrolling text: “2015 – the world is in chaos.” The world is in the grip of overpopulation, famine, war, and the depletion of oil. The Corporation (yes, that’s actually its name) has become more powerful than any government, and has hidden itself away inside a fortified city called the Red Zone. The Corporation tries to develop a drug to pacify mankind, but the head scientists instead unleashes a plague that turns human beings into something between Rage Zombies and chimps. These monstrous “Biosyns” now far outnumber humans, and the few survivors…well, they run around in the woods a lot.
Why did the film need to tell us all this in scrolling text? Because you NEVER SEE ANY OF IT. Nope. You never see the Red Zone, or the Corporation, save for a handful of their troops. The most interesting aspects of this film exist only in text. What DO we get to see? We get lots of Biosyns chasing people around in the woods. No, seriously, that’s pretty much it.
The first main character we meet is Jamal, one of the Corporation’s brainwashed soldiers – a tracker. Jamal, like his fellow trackers, wears a camo jacket and wields an AK47, but also wears a white dishdasha underneath…which kinda defeats the purpose of the camouflage. We find out later that the corporation has been brainwashing captured middle-easterners and convicts to become their trackers. If this is the case, and Jamal wasn’t wearing the dishdasha by choice, why would the Corporation want him to wear it instead of wearing something more stealthy or durable? Why is he the only tracker who wears one?
Next we meet Max, a thin, bearded Sprockets lookalike who takes himself way too seriously. Max runs around in the woods more than anyone. He fights with a spear, a knife, and two hatchets (which he grips upside down), and narrates his scenes with hollow, pseudo-philosophical drivel that gives us even more irrelevant back story that never comes into play in the film. Max survives in the woods and kills any biosyns (or savages, as he calls them), that he comes across.
Jamal removes the chip from the back of his head, thus regaining his self-awareness. It’s never explained why or how he’s able to do this, but no matter, because he still doesn’t ever decide on his major motivation. He shows interest in the fact that Max’s blood might be a cure, but when asked what he plans to do with this knowledge, or whether or not he plans to seek out the resistance, he claims he hasn’t decided. In fact, he never does decide. He runs around int he woods awhile, shoots a lot of biosyns, literally threatens to shoot every human he encounters, and eventually dies a sudden and anti-climactic death.
Max goes to an abandoned complex of small wooden buildings and claims that this is the birthplace of the savages. That doesn’t make any sense, because we know that a rogue scientist in the Corporation created them, but we also know that the Corporation was/is the most powerful entity in the world. So, the most powerful entity in the world makes its top scientists work in small wooden outbuildings with no protection whatsoever? These buildings look like chicken houses! Keep in mind, they intended the scientists to develop a drug that was to pacify, and hopefully save, humanity – and with unlimited resources at their disposal, they give them this place. I don’t buy it. You’ve made a habit of not showing us things that you can’t adequately portray, so why now show us this?
It turns out that Max’s father was a soldier during a war in which the middle-east was wiped out, and he defected to the “easterners”. He told Max to await a man named Hareem Jabbar, and Max has been doing so for years – even going so far as to paint a huge sign at the so-called birthplace of the biosyns. Unfortunately, as seems to be standard operating procedure for every character in this film, allegiances and motivations are transitory and fleeting.
For example, after Jamal and Max spend a great deal of the film running around in the woods individually, they finally meet up, and max tries to kill Jamal, impaling him through the chest with a log covered in spikes. Not only does Jamal survive, but Max cares for him and nurses him back to health in about TWO DAYS. Wow. The guy’s dishdasha is dyed red with the blood from multiple puncture wounds in his chest, and two days later he’s running and playing in the woods with Max like nothing’s wrong. First off, why did Max try to kill the first human being he’s seen in years, and then decide to nurse him back to health? Jamal doesn’t ask. Not because he doesn’t care, but because he believes Max is deaf. That’s right, Max even TELLS Jamal that he’s deaf, and thus, they don’t communicate. Jamal’s response is one of the greatest lines spoken in any movie, “Listen to me, you deaf bastard!” Ah well, it makes about as much sense as the rest of the movie.
As it turns out, Max is NOT deaf, and no reason is ever given as to why he pretended to be deaf for a third of the film. When the other characters find out he’s not deaf, they pretty much say “You’re not deaf? Oh. Okay.” … and it is never spoken of again. I hate this movie.
Eventually, Max and Jamal run into Rachael and Zac. Rachel used to be a scientist for the Corporation, and Zac is the man she’s apparently in love with. Despite the fact that they have a common enemy in the savages, Max and Jamal ambush and disarm Zac and Rachael. There is a four-way conversation that doesn’t make much sense: Max narrates that he is going to allow Rachael to disarm him because he “needs this” and so she does. Jamal claims that he recognizes Rachael as a Corporation scientist, which Zac is apparently unaware of. However, Zac says “you told me you were working on a cure!” Okay, so did you or did you NOT know she was a scientist? Either way, Zac and Rachael somehow end up with both guns, but Zac has a mental breakdown over Rachael’s past, and drops both guns. Max picks them up, and gives one to Jamal. Jamal decides to kill Zac, but Rachael pleads for Zac’s life because she loves him. Jamal decides to leave them behind, and he and Max walk away. Then, Jamal turns around and comes back, and decides to kill Zac anyway. Max puts a knife to Jamal’s throat and dissuades him from killing Zac… again. *sigh* This is the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen.
I honestly don’t think there was a cohesive script in place before shooting started. Each scene feels disjointed and improvised, and there’s not even a cohesive overall plot, aside from the fact that there are monsters running around in the woods that want to eat people, but even THAT gets foggy later! I’m not even kidding. The zombies can’t even keep their story straight.
Suddenly, Hareem shows up…running around in the woods. What else? Jamal has Rachel undress to ensure that she isn’t infected… but this is pointless, because it turns out she IS infected, so apparently checking someone’s body isn’t a very good method of diagnosis. The four of them run around in the woods together for awhile, until Jamal claims that they’ll never escape because the herd of savages has gotten too thick. Zac volunteers to go off on his own and create a diversion, and Rachael (the same girl who begged for his life) doesn’t say a single word. So… I guess she’s not as in love with him as she thought? Jamal shoots him up with adrenaline so he’ll be a killing machine, but it doesn’t really matter because Zac runs off into the woods alone and promptly has another mental breakdown, drops his rifle, and cries into his hands. Hmmm. Some diversion, there, Zac.
Jamal knows Rachel is infected, and tries to kill her, but Max stands in his way. Rach starts making eyes at Max now (love the one you’re with, I guess), but soon succumbs to her infection. Jamal want to kill her AGAIN(surprise!), but Max defends her AGAIN, so Jamal threatens to kill them both. Suddenly, the trackers find them and start firing on them, and Max just freaks out and runs off into the darkness alone.
Hareem finds Max (where? where else? In the woods!) and introduces himself. Finally, at least one plot point in this film is going to get resolved! Max has finally found the man he’s been awaiting for years! Something good is going to happen! Max runs up and…wait, what? Max knocks Hareem out… and runs away – into the woods. 🙁
Max runs right through a herd of Savages, and they don’t even try to attack him. I’m not sure why…they don’t even take notice of him. Hareem wakes up and pursues max through the woods, but they seem to be ignoring Hareem too. There is no explanation for this! The only certainty in this entire film is that the biosyns kill people, and now they aren’t…and we are never told why! Movie, you have zero credibility.
Max finds Rachel, now a savage, and Hareem knocks her out. Max drops some of his own blood into Rachel’s mouth, and it appears to heal her of the infection. NOW the savages take notice of them, but still do not attack. They DO however, attempt to attack Jamal. What’s the difference? Why would they attack Jamal but not Hareem or Max? Jamal runs into Zac, and the two of them aim guns at each other, but suddenly two trackers show up and kill them both. Then the trackers kill Hareem and the once-again-human Rachael…
Then the savages, who can’t decide if they attack people or not, decide to attack the Trackers. In a moment of much needed comic relief, one of the trackers attempts to change the magazine in his AK, but he’s so excruciatingly slow at it, they actually use a jump cut to make it appear faster. It’s not a clean jump cut either, and it doesn’t happen in the background of the scene. No, this is the entire purpose of the shot: closeup on tracker changing magazine, tracker yells “changing mags”, tracker removes old magazine, and fiddles with the new one for a second [JUMP CUT] tracker clicks new magazine in place.
So, did no one on the editing team think that shot looked like shit? I mean, it’s not a necessary shot. In fact, I would argue that the only reason for including it would be to show that your character is proficient with the use of his weapon, but your shot shows the complete opposite, so why include it at all? Just cut the damn shot out! If you REALLY wanted that shot in there, you could’ve at least said “okay, Bill…go home and practice that for a few hours, and we’ll shoot it ten times, and use the best one in the film.”
I don’t own this DVD, but if I did, I’d break it.
Now max is all alone again, running through the woods. Max has a hulk-out moment and kills all the remaining trackers with his hatchets and knife, culminating the dumbest scene in the entire movie (and that’s saying something). Max sticks a hatchet in the last tracker’s chest, causing the man the stand up straight and stick his arms out to either side in a crucifix pose. He stands there like this, I shit you not, for about twenty seconds… arms straight out to the sides, hatchet in his chest. Max walks up calmly, looks him over, and then pulls the hatchet out and quickly ducks to one side as a GEYSER of blood erupts from the man’s chest. It sprays for literally another ten seconds while he continues to stand there, stiff as a board, arms spread, and no expression whatsoever on his face.
Max decides it best NOT to pick up any of their guns, despite the fact that he’s surrounded by savages… but its okay, because the fickle savages crowd around Max and KNEEL to him. Yes, this is really happening. The savages are now bowing to Max – the same man that has survived for years in perpetual war with the creatures, and now that they are finally in significant enough numbers to do him in, they decide to embrace him as their supposed superior.
I’m… I don’t even… what is this? I don’t even know what to say, other than I have never before enjoyed the walk to my mailbox as much as I did after putting this thing back in its prepaid return envelope.