xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

Review by Elena Lazic @elazic

Directed by

DJ Caruso

Starring

Deepika Padukone Donnie Yen Vin Diesel

Anticipation.

The first film contained some genuinely great moments, but this second sequel looks decidedly short on ideas.

Enjoyment.

As cringeworthy as it is entertaining.

In Retrospect.

We’re back in the Xander zone but the next one better be real good.

Vin Diesel is back as the world’s toughest, buffest secret agent. The results are thrilling and baffling in equal measure.

Arriving in the still-smouldering tire marks of 2001’s The Fast and The Furious, director Rob Cohen and star Vin Diesel treated audiences to yet more high-speed thrills and spills with the first xXx movie. Diesel played Xander Cage, an extreme sports junkie recruited against his will by the NSA to take down an underground Russian crime ring brilliantly dubbed ‘Anarchy 99’.

The actor’s athletic prowess provided the opportunity to stage some thrilling action scenes – an unforgettable sequence has him riding off on a motorbike just as a building explodes in flames below him – and also made of Xander Cage an unconventional, modern special agent. His unorthodox methods, tattoos and considerable swagger made him the perfect protagonist for a modern spy movie send-up.

An American POC James Bond with muscles who doesn’t takes himself or his ludicrous gadgets half as seriously as the British double agent, Cage seemed all but set up for his own franchise. But something went wrong. Despite the film’s moderate success, Diesel decided not to return for the 2005 sequel, xXx: State of the Union, and was subsequently replaced by Ice Cube. The film tanked and it’s taken 15 years for Diesel to pick up where he left off.

Unfortunately, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage fails to recapture the winning formula of the original, opting instead for an Avengers-style team-up. Once again recruited by force, Cage this time demands to be joined by a bunch of outlaws like himself, each with their own special abilities, forming a clan he describes as “the good, the extreme, and the completely insane.” This weak riff on Sergio Leone’s classic western – just a little too pathetic to be endearing– sets the general tone for the film’s dialogue and humour, which runs the gamut from ‘that’s what she said’ to ‘your mum’.

What we have here is a film that crudely apes the Fast & Furious movies, with each actor given a chance to shine but barely enough screen time for any real character development. Orange is the New Black star Ruby Rose appears as Adele Wolff, an experienced sniper subject to some pretty basic lesbian jokes. Thai star Tony Jaa, playing martial arts expert Talon, is perhaps the most underused of all, second only to Game of Thrones regular Rory McCann who pops up as petty thief Tennyson Torch.

On their quest to retrieve the Pandora’s Box – a device that allows anyone in its possession to control satellites, effectively turning them into deadly missiles – Cage’s team is confronted by a group of mercenaries who are unaffiliated with any government organisation. Rogue One star Donnie Yen leads the pack as ex-special agent Xiang. He shines even more here, in less frantically edited fighting scenes that allow his incredible skills to speak for themselves. His partner in crime is Serena Unger (a passable Deepika Padukone, the biggest Bollywood star at the moment) while Nicks (Chinese-Canadian pop star and actor Kris Wu) is a DJ with deadly tricks who is more concerned with his music than matters of international security.

As the cartoonish character names suggest, this threequel thankfully shares some of the delightfully trashy action excesses of the late ’90s and early 2000s that made the first film so fun. Yet it stops short of the manic sincerity which elevated that film’s hilarious narrative leaps. Such extravagance is simply not executed here with the same sense of glee, and is always a little too self-conscious to be genuinely joyous. According to this latest xXx film, tongue-in-cheek humour and bracing action sequences are mutually exclusive.

Still, at times the film is a lot of fun. Like when Xander races down a busy road on a skateboard, then glides through a dry forest on skis. The final 20 minutes, in particular, is entirely comprised of stellar, uninterrupted action. At a historical moment when being wary of the government is a fairly relatable sentiment, the film’s main theme ultimately becomes that of a simple choice between blindly trusting the state or retaining a degree of skepticism.

Published 19 Jan 2017

Tags: DJ Caruso Donnie Yen Vin Diesel

Anticipation.

The first film contained some genuinely great moments, but this second sequel looks decidedly short on ideas.

Enjoyment.

As cringeworthy as it is entertaining.

In Retrospect.

We’re back in the Xander zone but the next one better be real good.

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