Review: xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (2017)

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (2017).

Director: D.J. Caruso (Eagle Eye, I Am Number Four, Inside).

Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Toni Collette, Rory McCann, Samuel L. Jackson.

Xander Cage is back, but I have to wonder if anyone cared that he went away? Vin Diesel returns to portray the titular character after skipping out on 2005’s xXx: State of the Union, marking a full 15 years since we last saw him. So what exactly has he been up to?

Apparently, not a whole lot. After faking his own death, Cage has been living in exile in the Dominican Republic. The film gives us our first look at Cage as he climbs a tower so he can steal a signal from a satellite, so he can watch sports. After jumping from the top, in true xXx style he wades through the jungle on his skis, skateboards down several roads and onto the side of a bus, and sticks his middle finger up to anyone who gets in his way.

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Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen and Deepika Padukone in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage | Paramount Pictures

We then jump to a meeting at CIA headquarters, which is quickly interrupted by Xiang (Donnie Yen) and his team of extremely skilled individuals. After taking down several agents in usual Donnie Yen style, his team steals a device called ‘Pandora’s Box’ (groan), which allows the user to select a satellite from space and crash it wherever they like. Realising that normal agents won’t cut it, CIA Agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette) decides to track Cage down and get him to retrieve Pandora’s Box.

I won’t delve any further into the plot, but rest assured the script focuses on making Xander Cage look cool instead of a decent narrative. It’s not even subtle. Marke’s weapon specialist Becky Clearidge (Nina Dobrev) freaks out when she sees Cage, as if he she had just met the President, or Jesus, or a cute puppy. Cage assures her that he ‘knows mouth to mouth if necessary’ and then they start discussing ‘safe words’. You know, the usual thing people would discuss two minutes after meeting one another.

The problem with this is that it never calms down. Every scene of the film exists in order to make Cage look cool and radical. Which I guess is the point of a xXx film, but I feel like that audience has moved on. Does it exist anymore? If the original xXx (2002) was a response to the suave looking, gadget expert James Bond, then what is this a response to? Kingsman: The Secret Service fills that subversion now.

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Vin Diesel and Deepika Padukone | Paramount Pictures

The Return of Xander Cage has the audacity of an Austin Powers film without any of the self-awareness. Vin leaves us with a serviceable performance but no charisma whatsoever. Xander Cage and Dominic Toretto from the Fast and Furious franchise could exist in the same universe, in fact they could easily be the same person. Perhaps those tattoos are only temporary.

However, despite the awful the script, the agonising pandering towards making Vin Diesel look cool, and all the edgy jokes, I can’t help but think about this film as a guilty pleasure. Sitting through Furious 7 made me legitimately angry because the stakes are forever increasing with no consequences, but Xander Cage exists in a universe where cool shit happens for the sake of cool shit. During an escape sequence, Vin chases Donnie Yen on a motorcycle, which turns into motorski(?) seemingly automatically when it reaches water, allowing them to surf waves, go under the water and then come back out of said water with no problem. It’s ridiculous, it’s silly but it’s also amazingly fun to watch and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a smile on my face.

Whether that smile was from enjoyment or sheer disbelief, I’m not sure.

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Ruby Ros, Nina Dobrev and Vin Diesel | Paramount Pictures

There’s a reason why I’m not invested into Vin Diesel’s character, it’s because there’s two infinitely more interesting people beside him. Donnie Yen and Ruby Rose are the more compelling characters here. Rose is criminally underused, and Yen could easily carry his own xXx film. Vin feels out-of-place in his own movie.

Aside from those two, the rest of the surrounding cast are laughable and only exist to stretch out the runtime. Each character even gets a Suicide Squad style title card to introduce themselves, but they carried more than they bargained for. These side characters are underdeveloped and unneeded. Xander recruits a sniper (Ruby Rose), a getaway driver (Rory McCann), and…a DJ (Kris Wu)? I’ve no idea what skills that a DJ could bring on a top-secret mission, but he’s there. I feel like I have to give praise towards the film for being diverse and inclusive though, they’re not just a bunch of good-looking, white dudes (whom Cage actually fires out of plane early in the film).

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Vin Diesel chases Donnie Yen on land and water with this motorcycle | Paramount Pictures

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is an over-the-top action extravaganza with characters that have more brawn than brain. Stunts and set pieces are fun to watch, but the choppy editing from Assassin’s Creed returns, making much of it unwatchable. Watch it when it eventually hits bargain bins later this year.

2/5

Feature image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

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