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xXx: Return Of Xander Cage Review

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In 2002, with The Fast and the Furious and Pitch Black already under his belt, avid franchise collector Vin Diesel seemed to have another series to play with in the form of xXx, which saw the gravelly voiced one step into the role of Xander Cage, an extreme sports turned super spy. Basically think of James Bond if he was thought up by a room full of teenage boys. Very much in the mould of his other characters, Cage was the consummate bad ass, though he lacked Diesel’s usual charm and ultimately came off as an unlikeable dick. Even though he had signed on for the sequel before the original even opened, Diesel opted out of 2005’s xXx: State of the Union, passing the torch to Ice Cube. State of the Union crashed and burned, and seemed to be that for the series. But never count a franchise out when Vin Diesel is involved (have we not learned anything from Fast & Furious?), as he dons Cage’s ridiculously large fur coat once more for xXx: Return of Xander Cage in an attempt to give the decades old franchise a new lease of life.


After faking his death in a DVD extra (one which didn’t even star Diesel), Cage is called out of retirement when his former NSA handler Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) is killed by a falling satellite, pulled from the sky by a device called Pandora’s Box that can crash any one of the 30,000 satellites that orbit Earth. When the device falls into the hands of Xiang (Donnie Yen) and his team of  parkour and martial arts enthusiasts, Cage assembles his own team of thrill seekers (including Ruby Rose and The Hound himself, Rory McCann) to combat them, all under the watchful eye of government agent Jane Marke (Toni Colette).

From the opening scene, complete with humorous introductory text for all the main characters, director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia, Eagle Eye) does inject a fair bit of style and energy into proceedings, with early action scenes doing a great job of getting the audience in the right mood for what is to come, even pulling off the impossible task of making Diesel skiing through a jungle not look totally ridiculous. But it’s when the time comes for the actual story to take centre stage that this belated sequel stumbles almost immediately. The plot is so predictable that you’ll feel like you were given a road map to it before the opening credits rolled. The narrative follows no real path other than “this needs to happen now”, with the movie’s villain feeling like an after thought and any ‘twists’ it attempts to throw at us are laughable at best (though one pretty meta cameo near the end will coax a smile out of any fans of the series). Even the dialogue and dated one liners feels hackneyed, and will have you rolling your eyes on more than one occasion. While there are some moments where they shine, even the set pieces quickly wear out their welcome, wasting the talents of honest to goodness martial arts legends like Yen and Tony Jaa with quick cuts and hyper active editing which reduces everything on screen to a shaky, unwatchable mess.


Even 15 years later, the character of Xander Cage hasn’t changed much, still being the smug bastard from the original. Diesel’s attempts to make the character feel effortlessly cool wildly miss the mark, coming off more as cocky and unlikable than anything else. This isn’t helped by his self satisfied perma-smile that will make you want to jump into the screen and slap him upside the head. Taking a leaf out the ‘how to make Fast & Furious franchise mega successful’ book, xXx 3 becomes a team movie, but that approach works only when you care about the individual members of the team. No attempt at that is ever made here, with each new character been entirely one dimensional and just there to fulfil a role, from the sniper to the hacker to the crazy one. This parade of quirky bad asses who can do no wrong, just like the titular hero, soon becomes tiresome and you’ll find yourself wishing some terrible fate befalls them just to make them interesting.

A misfired attempt to reboot a dormant franchise, xXx: Return of Xander Cage could have been a fun but dumb little action movie, but all it can manage is just dumb.







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