“I’m not a soldier, I’m a baller” – xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (Film Review)

Directed by D.J. Caruso from a script by F. Scott Frazier, xXX: The Return of Xander Cage is a mindless action flick that aims to turn a decade-too-old franchise into a second-rate The Fast and the Furious clone, with only partial success.

The original xXX from 2002 was on the tail end of the brand of action movies that idolized extreme sports and extreme silliness – it came out the same year as The Bourne Identity, the movie that replaced the over-the-top stunts, gadgets and cheese of the latter Brosnan era Bond films with gritty, hard-hitting down-to-earth action, ushering a different era of the movie super spy. Vin Diesel’s Xander Cage, an extreme sports enthusiast turned secret government agent, didn’t belong in this new era, which might explain why apart from a 2005 sequel starring Ice Cube, the xXx franchise has been dormant for more than a decade.

With The Fast and the Furious racking in billions worldwide, Diesel has the star power and leverage to try and reanimate xXx, but The Return of Xander Cage is more than a few years too late. It’s not that Diesel is too old to be an action star, but Xander is a action hero that emphasizes athleticism and agility and Vin Diesel has bulked up considerably since his xXx years. He’s bigger, slower and really doesn’t look the type to be doing flips and kicks with motorcycles and skateboards. The same goes for Xander’s trademark snark – it’s the type of adolescent humour that just doesn’t really work when it’s coming from a man pushing 50. I can get behind Vin Diesel driving fast cars, jumping out of planes or punching people around, but he outgrew Xander Cage a while ago and it seems weird to try and bring him back like the first movie came out yesterday.

Plus, it’s clear that The Return of Xander Cage is trying to capitalise on the success on The Fast and The Furious in more ways than one, what with introducing a large number of new characters in an attempt to build up the same kind of team dynamic. It’s not as blatant as calling them a family, but get ready to hear “X takes care of its own” more than a few times. The plot also centres on a technological MacGuffin nicknamed Pandora’s Box, not unlike Furious 7’s God’s Eye.

There a few reasons why the new xXx doesn’t work as well as well-oiled machine that is The Fast and the Furious franchise at this point. For starters, the cast of The Fast and the Furious is large, but they introduced them over several movies and gave them clear, if stock, roles – The Return of Xander Cage crams so many at once that there are least four that seem to have no reason to be there whatsoever. Why is Rory McCann in the movie? Why is Nina Dobrev playing a painfully unconvincing and unfunny nerdy stereotype?

Secondly, since Fast Five, The Fast and the Furious movies have had straightforward plots and clear emotional stakes – they’re dumb plots, with idiotic twists, but you know what’s going on, what the characters are after and what they stand to lose. The Return of Xander Cage has none of that agency. The plot is muddled and confusing, characters switch allegiances on a dime and there’s never any sense of personal stakes. It makes it very hard to get invested in the overblown action scenes at all.

The writing is just as cheesy and idiotic as a Fast and the Furious movie, so they got that part right, but it’s not even close to being as endearing. If Tyrese Gibson said “I’m not a soldier, I’m a baller” in the upcoming The Fate of The Furious, I’d laugh, because I know he’s the dumb comic relief character and that line suits him, but when Kris Wu says it in The Return of Xander Cage, I just groan, scratch my head and try to remember what his character name is or why he’s even there to begin with.

It’s not that the movie isn’t entertaining. It hits enjoyably stupid more than a few times, possibly enough to justify watching it. Plus, I’ll give it points for having several female characters in what could have easily been a sausage fest, with Ruby Rose’s sniper Adele and Deepika Padukone’s Serena being the most badass of the bunch. Sure, the camera ogles most of the women in the movie and there’s an aggressively stupid scene in which Xander bangs at least four women half his age at the same time (even reusing the “The things I do for my country” line from the first movie for some extra cringe), so the movie loses points there, but at least women have some agency in the action.

Considering how much it borrows from The Fast and the Furious, and rather poorly at that, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage has very little to call its own. If you’re desperate for some mindless, overblown action and can’t wait for The Fate of the Furious to come out, this might be enjoyable enough to scratch that itch, but that’s hardly enough reason to justify its existence. Might have been for the best if Xander Cage just stayed dead.

Dir: D.J. Caruso
Prd: Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Vin Diesel, Samantha Vincent
Scr: F. Scott Frazier
Cast: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson
Music: Brian Tyler, Robert Lydecker
Country: United States
Runtime: 107 min

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is in cinemas right now.

(Images courtesy of IMDB)

One comment

  1. Great review Stanyo. Passion always comes through in disappointment. You know it’s a good review if it successfully uses the term ‘sausage fest’.

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