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Vanquish Film Review: All Style, No Substance

Hellbent on impressing with exuberant amounts of style, George Gallo’s Vanquish doesn’t know that characters and story need to come first if you want to create something truly compelling.

Oh, God. Where to even begin with this one? Let’s start by acknowledging that the film’s director, George Gallo, is a visual artist who has produced numerous landscape paintings—and his work beautifully showcases a fine attention to detail through its lively colors and natural use of light. His best work, though, is found through his story treatment of Michael Bay’s Bad Boys, a visually dynamic action film that couldn’t have been directed by any other filmmaker than Bay. Gallo has already proven himself to be a multitalented screenwriter, filmmaker, and visual artist, which means that there was no reason for his latest work, Vanquish, to fail as miserably as it did, containing little to zero redeeming qualities.

In a six-minute long opening credit sequence, shoddy-CGI newspaper clips remind us repeatedly that the film’s central figure, Damon (Morgan Freeman), is a “hero cop” who constantly makes the right decisions. After what feels like an eternal montage, the movie finally begins and tells us the story of Victoria (Ruby Rose), who acts as Damon’s carer. After an accident causes Damon to become paraplegic for life, he starts to live a life of crime, working with dirty cops and drug dealers to smuggle money. When a situation that’s never properly explained goes bad, Damon holds Victoria’s daughter hostage, and asks her to use her old “set of skills” to collect his money. However, everyone who is on Victoria’s path knows her and her dead brother, which prompts her to kill everyone on her way, setting the stage for a revenge-filled night.

There’s one problem that prevents Vanquish from being any good (well, two, but one is highly important): it has no sense of pace. The film moves at such an insanely slow pace, almost as if every actor (and person behind the camera) were sleepwalking through their work, only thinking about the paycheck they’ll receive at the end of production. There’s no effort, from anyone, to make it somewhat compelling. The cinematography is flat and unengaging—Gallo’s answer to this problem is to fill every shot either with a highly-saturated filter or with neon lighting (Morgan Freeman’s house doesn’t seem to have any functional lights, but the neons do work), to infuse some sort of flashy style to the scenes. It’s maddening to think that there’s no visual personality, especially when you look at Gallo’s paintings: they’re blissful. Simple, yes, but amazingly detailed and beautiful.

loud and clear reviews vanquish
Ruby Rose in Vanquish (Signature Entertainment)

You can’t find any of that in Vanquish—everything feels stale and/or robotic, which also includes the way Gallo shoots action, done in a way that makes it hard for you to comprehend what’s going on. One scene in particular, in which Victoria drinks a drug-laced concoction ( during which Damon constantly repeats, for at least two minutes, “Don’t pass out.”) is the epitome of bad action filmmaking. Victoria sees cocaine on a table and decides to take it to counteract the effects of the drug that’s slowly making her go unconscious, which prompts for ultra-rapid editing, filled with endless random cuts and shaky cam. Victoria kills everyone in the room she’s in, but you can’t see anything—it’s cut to shreds to hide the poor stunt work on display.

Every time there’s supposed to be a “hit”, the camera  randomly cuts somewhere else, which is how every single action scene is crafted. The biggest sin of it all comes with the film’s ending, in which its story quite literally jumps the shark with random cuts and some of the worst CGI explosions you’ll ever witness. There are ways to make a low-budget film somewhat interesting, by using practical stunts instead of trying to rely too much on style, and focusing on the movement of the actors and how they operate inside a space, instead, to craft great action set pieces. The new Mortal Kombat movie didn’t have an ounce of visual style, but it certainly knew how to use a dynamic camera to move its actors in their respective spaces to make the film’s action sequences as exhilarating as possible.

It doesn’t also help that the film’s  main actors completely miss the mark: Ruby Rose has no action-star potential with a flat, almost nonexistent emotional portrayal of a mother who’ll do anything to get her daughter back, and Morgan Freeman completely slumbers his lines through his wheelchair. None of the actors seem to want to make their respective performances as credible as possible, with Rose’s Australian accent slipping multiple times and then going back to an American one as if nothing had happened, and Freeman delivering his lines in a terribly uninteresting way.  Rose’s portrayal feels so unconvincing that it ultimately makes the stakes of the movie feel unimportant: she wants her daughter back and continuously proves that she’ll do anything to get to that goal, but her performance is so dull, without an ounce of personality, that it never grips the audience in the heart of the story.  

Where’s the indelible motherly love that should serve as motivation for Victoria to complete the mission and make her determined to save her life? Where are her conflicting thoughts when she is confronted by Damon, who asks her to do him a favor? She quickly complies and never really asks questions. She knows her endgame, but where are the moments in which she needs to ask herself if everything she’s doing is necessary or not? We go along with Victoria for the night, but we don’t necessarily care about what’s happening to her, since her character is poorly fleshed-out and her motivations seem paper-thin. Victoria wants to save her daughter, and that’s good.

Vanquish: Trailer (Lionsgate)

But why does she need to comply with Damon’s requests? I mean…the dude’s in a wheelchair…you can just…y’know…clip him and leave with your daughter. Of course, if you did that, you wouldn’t have a movie, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Damon has her daughter locked in one of his rooms, and that, with a little fidgeting around with the house’s technology, she can be easily saved. When Damon says, “if you kill me, you’ll never be able to find her”, that’s not entirely true, because he can’t walk or drive, so where else would he hide her, but his house? Victoria doesn’t seem to think before she does Damon’s bidding, because we do need to have the runtime stretch out for feature-length, after all.

There are no redeeming qualities in Vanquish—it’s a terribly dull and drab film that was shot and dumped in the middle of a global pandemic for the world to instantly forget about it as it’s out. None of the actors care, the action sequences are frantically edited to the point where it becomes total visual insanity, and the film’s pace is so monotonous that it’ll likely put you to sleep. You’re better off watching a film that’s more valuable or urgent, such as Bad Boys. Now, that’s what I’d call cinema.

Vanquish was released by Lionsgate in US theaters, on Digital, on Demand, Blu-Ray and DVD on April 16, 2021, and by Signature Entertainment on DVD and Premium Digital Platforms in the UK on June 4.

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