Within the current world of digitally-released cinema, it can be easy to discover what are the treasures versus the trash. And somehow, within the span of only two minutes into Lionsgate’s latest production, Vanquish, I knew what I was looking at was easily the second category — the 2021 equivalent of discovering a mangled DVD case on the floor of a closing Blockbuster. Because even with the on-screen presence of Ruby Rose and Morgan Freeman on display, very little could save this cheap example of the action genre.
After a laughable opening credits sequence (the kind that makes you wanna scream “we get it” from the rooftops), we meet Damon (Freeman, “Going in Style”), a former cop now wheelchair-bound crime boss, recounting his sins in the most Party City looking of churches. What is Damon saying to his fellow religious leader friend? Who knows, because the scene — like much the rest of this movie — is barely audible (since every actor seems to have been directed to speak in a mumble tone at best.) We then are treated to a scene of rats sneaking amongst the pipes of a random interior space. And as much I wish this movie was secretly a live-action re-imagining of “The Secret of Nimh,” what follows is far from it.
The true “plot” (if you could call it that) of Vanquish revolves around Victoria (Rose, “The Meg”), Damon’s caretaker. A single mother with a drug crime-filled past, Victoria refuses to return to her prior life. She has a beautiful little girl, a memorable hair cut and a moto jacket to match, after-all. Yet when Damon takes Victoria’s daughter hostage, this once-criminal must fulfill Damon’s task in order to get her kid back. The job? Rob and kill a bunch of goons that are getting in Damon’s way.
What follows is an amateur, head-scratching “game” brought to life. And that is about the kindest description one can give to a movie, whose narrative peak revolves around Morgan Freeman encouraging Ruby Rose to kill baddies, via a Bluetooth headset. And no matter how utterly hilarious it is to see Freeman doing bare minimum reactions, while Rose offers her usual bag of model-turned-mundane movie star tricks, this is truly a bizarre example of the “John Wick” era of action cinema.
To simply put, Vanquish has me (and I’m sure many other moviegoers) wanting to ask if its insanely laughable qualities are perhaps intentional. Because its hard to not view a scene of a rat witnessing bad guys discussing their latest crime, followed by a line of dialog that says “you’re right, the guy was gonna rat us out,” as anything but a joke. It’s nearly impossible to not see the awkward camera motions within Damon’s house as being anything other than a clip from a “Saturday Night Live” digital short. And it’s pretty hard to not see Freeman offering Rose a selection of weapons, via a Crate & Barrel display in his kitchen, as anything but a visual chuckle.
Yet Vanquish could have been something. Writer/Director George Gallo did write “Bad Boys” and “Midnight Run,” and clearly knows his way around this kind of a hyper showcase of violence. But from its lifeless cinematic energy, to its narrative and technical stumbles, it feels like George didn’t have a grasp at all on what he wanted the final product of this to be. And it especially shows when it comes to the world he sets his characters in.
Perhaps we as modern audiences have come to expect too much from our current action cinema, specifically in terms of locations. Because with The Continental within the “John Wick” franchise, to even the latest lavish Russian-operated nightclub in the charmingly simple “Nobody,” a bar has been set for current entries into this genre. And yet Gallo (along with co-screenwriter Samuel Barrett) place their band of bland individuals into equally lazy and forgettable set pieces. And it doesn’t help that every one of them is either dipped in vomit green or neon blue coloring.
But ultimately the most frustrating part of Vanquish, is how it provides yet another failed attempt at making a female led-action franchise. We’ve seen all of this before with the much more interesting likes of “Nikita,” “Salt,” and even the upcoming “Black Widow” solo film. Yet none of them seem to want to break from the typical trappings nor try to move away from the glamorous yet sexy box that staples of this genre continue to regurgitate over and over. And when you can’t even try to make someone as visually interesting as Ruby Rose captivating on screen, why even bother making the film in the first place.
At the end of the day, Vanquish offers a lot for those who eat up cringeworthy cinema like their favorite buttery popcorn. Sure, its delicious, yet it’s definitely in no way “good for you.” But there’s no denying that it is far away from being a legitimate piece of filmmaking. And if you and your fellow viewers are willing to accept that (and perhaps do some prior research to what is sure to be a future episode of “How Did This Get Made”), then I encourage you to give it a go. But if you recoil reading any of this description, throw any motivations you had towards it back into the discount bin where it belongs.