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‘xXx’: Reports Of Xander Cage’s Death Were Greatly Exaggerated (Movie Review)

xXx_UKQuadThere is a point in xXx: Return of Xander Cage where Vin Diesel starts wearing a giant fur coat, as if to suggest this 49-year old skater/adrenaline junkie/tattoo harvester/former spy was not cool enough for audiences already.  The coat is not a huge part of the film (and thinking about it now, I’m curious if it is possible for it to even come back for a sequel), but it represents the utter ridiculousness that is this movie. With that in mind, this is also a film that embraces its ridiculousness. With all the action films that treat themselves so seriously or provide cool thrills at the expense of groups that continue to be vilified, here’s a cartoon-come-to-life that mixes bro moments with diverse fun.

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xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Taking on some plot elements, casting ideas and even one cast member from the Fast & Furious series, Diesel returns to the xXx franchise to once again show how much cooler it would be if James Bond was more eXtreme. If anything, this film actually takes the original Rob Cohen film’s premise to its full potential. Rather than just insert one covert-op dude bro into a government operation, Return of Xander Cage finds xXx dealing with several other people all recruited by Samuel L. Jackson’s Agent Gibbons for the same purpose. That means building an eclectic and international cast that includes Donnie Yen, Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Rory McCann and UFC champ Michael Bisping.

Director D.J. Caruso (who started off promising with The Salton Sea and now slums with stuff like I Am Number Four) feels like the appropriate choice for a movie like this, as the plot is as basic as it gets. Still, it doesn’t stop the film from doing what it can to work all the various cast members into elaborate action scenes. Sure, many of those scenes are moments planned out elaborately in pre-production and stitched together by shoddy editing, but there is a vibrant nature to a film like this, which heads to multiple countries (and Detroit).

To all of this, I have to say, it really comes down to how great a producer Diesel must be. The film may be dumb and this franchise has been dormant since the Diesel-less 2005 sequel, xXx: State of the Union, but the work has been done to make this film into a worldwide event. There is little doubt that this film was designed to make a ton of money in the U.S., but thanks to Diesel’s efforts to secure an internationally appealing cast and apply universally non-complex ideas to a film that constantly delivers action, there is a good chance the many international markets this film opens in simultaneously will enjoy what they get here. It helps that the stakes are quite a bit lower. Unlike a film that is similar in a lot of ways (Suicide Squad), Return of Xander Cage is not holding the weight of multiple movies on its shoulders nor has it promoted itself to be something it’s not.

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Return of Xander Cage is what it presents itself to be and it is aware of that. It’s not aware to the extent that characters break the fourth wall like Deadpool, but it is aware enough to take jabs at other Marvel films. It also manages to do this without being overtly offensive. Save for Diesel’s character being treated like the Diesel of the early 2000s, the film does well to give the other characters fun stuff to do. This international cast does not suffer jokes about where they are from. The multiple female characters have their own actions scenes, without requiring rescuing. Even the film’s most obvious twists play around with their reveals. One could say the film insults your intelligence, but it does so in a way that makes you want to forgive it and hang out afterwards.

If anything, the film’s biggest problem is Diesel. His image and persona fit well in Fast & Furious, because he’s part of an ensemble and that franchise’s familial themes work to his strengths as an actor. In Return of Xander Cage, Diesel is the thing everything revolves around, which means spending a lot of time watching him act in a way that doesn’t feel as comfortable. Particularly in a much slower second act, establishing a giant cast of characters we know very little about only goes so far and Diesel is not the hero that comes to the performance rescue.

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At least things get better when the film is in action mode. The extreme sports angle may feel dated and Caruso (and his 2nd unit directors) are not about to outdo The Raid or John Wick, but the goofy presentation of action and some admittedly novel ideas play well to a film that prides itself in going over-the-top. It also means seeing Donnie Yen in action, which is never a bad thing. That said, it would have been nice to see more of Tony Jaa’s skills on screen, but one can’t have it all.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is far from good, but it is sort of “good” as far as non-summer action spectacles go. It’s a no-fuss attempt to give Diesel something else to do, aside from drive fast and furiously, though it also makes me wonder when he will start to do more behind the camera again (he’s a director and a great promoter). As far as this franchise is concerned, other films picked up the slack as far as modern riffs on James Bond, so I’m more than happy with this being a one and done type of situation. But for what it accomplishes, xXx does its best to look cool.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

4 Responses to “‘xXx’: Reports Of Xander Cage’s Death Were Greatly Exaggerated (Movie Review)”


  1. Brian White

    Is it wrong I kind of want to see this? I skipped the press screening in fear, but you have me curious now.

  2. Aaron Neuwirth

    Well I did give it a positive review…

  3. Brian White

    You did and I DO need something to cheer me up so I think hook, line and sinker you sold me on it. When are we going to Skype movies like you do with Jordan?

  4. Brian White