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XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017) Review

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a 2017 action thriller about a special agent long thought dead who returns to action to try and stop a dangerous device from falling into the wrong hands.

It’s been fifteen years since the first xXx film and in that time, there’s not been much demand to see more of it, especially after star Vin Diesel abandoned the franchise directly after the first and an uninspired sequel with Ice Cube fell well short of expectation. Now, as nostalgia ever continues to motivate studios in reproducing new/old films, we have xXx: Return of Xander Cage, a numbing action film that goes backwards rather than forward, and should seal the franchise fate for good, though most likely won’t.

So there is a thing called a Pandora’s Box, a device that allows whomever has it to control just about anything, but most importantly, granting the ability to drop satellites onto major international cities. How it does that is not an issue. It’s a MacGuffin and what it is remains less a concern than who has it. It begins in the hands of Jane Marke (Toni Collette), an NSA super-spy type who explains to the CIA what it is just in time for an elite squad of mercenaries–including Talon (Tony Jaa), Xiang (Donnie Yen), and Serena (Deepika Padukone), all with outrageous tactical and athletic skills–to attack and steal it. Now what’s to be done?

Well, if you’ve read the title, then you know the answer. Marke goes to work tracking down the once thought dead Xander Cage (Diesel), who has actually been in a sort of self-imposed exile from the CIA after being forced to join them 15 years earlier. What’s this former extreme athlete and secret agent been up to all these years? Racing fast and furious cars? Well, not so much. Either way, he’s roped back into the game and forms a new team, including sharpshooter Adele (Ruby Rose) and stunt driver Tennyson (Rory McCann) among others to go after the box and save the world.

Directed by D.J. Caruso, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is filled with numerous plot twists, double-crosses, and a plethora of characters and yet is still about as complex as a recipe for toast. Clearly piggy-backing on the success of Diesel’s other far more lucrative franchise, this is a paint-by-the numbers movie that admittedly is stuffed front to back with action but at a considerable price. Lackluster and nearly joyless, it takes to the frenetic pace with cold, calculated precision that abandons logic and physics with such absurdity, it feels like it’s trying to be parody without actually saying. 

xXx: Return of Xander Cage
xXx: Return of Xander Cage, 2017 © Paramount Pictures

Part of the problem is Caruso’s direction, which is geared more for spectacle than story, but even then is just working to satisfy rather than innovate. What’s worked for others will work for this, seems the attitude. That’s extends to the hollow sexualization of the women, of course, nothing new in these types of movies, but overtly so with the introduction of intelligence agent Ainsley (Hermione Corfield), whose body seems far more important to the camera than her face and a peculiar scene where Xander gets himself access to six of Ainsley’s girlfriends. Everything is implied but we’re meant to connect the dots.

Diesel has maintained a kind of absorbing flare for this in the Fast and Furious films yet seems positively stuck on a treadmill here, clearly showing up to say his lines in closeup as the stunt crew and CG artists fill in the gaps for the action. Diesel will be 50 this year, and while he certainly has kept fit, his delivery is stagnant and lifeless. The way he embraced Cage 15 years ago is all but absent here.

There is a detached sense of goofiness of course to it all, and an extended cameo from series regular Augustus Eugene Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) kicks a little fun into the action at the start. He brings his usual over-the-top explosiveness to the role, while most others don’t, especially the typically very good Collette who is uncharacteristically flat, though Nina Dobrev as a computer nerd on Xander’s team is positively irritating.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is not without a few solid moments, of course. The third act builds to such zaniness inside a massive cargo airplane that there’s almost a gleefulness in watching some of the well-staged stunts come together, though again, the parallels to the Fast and the Furious are broadly drawn. This genre is all but bled dry and attempting to kickstart a franchise that never found it’s footing in the first place seems like a misstep from the start.

XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017) Review

Movie description: xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is a 2017 action thriller about a special agent long thought dead who returns to action to try and stop a dangerous device from falling into the wrong hands.

Director(s): D.J. Caruso

Actor(s): Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone

Genre: Action

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2 Comments

  1. MovieManJackson January 24, 2017
    • David Duprey January 25, 2017