xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (2017)

01/28/2017  By  Joseph Wade     No comments

Once upon a time, Dick Clark was labeled “America’s Oldest Teenager”.

He earned the nickname for being a pop culture gatekeeper, introducing America’s youth to their new favorite music, entertainment, etc. That mantle has now been passed to Vin Diesel who, at the age of 49, has managed to build a decades-long career out of driving ridiculously fast cars, pulling crazy stunts, and generally being the living embodiment of the word “extreme”. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage cements that legacy, wherein we sees Diesel reprise the character he originated in 2002 after taking a break from the Fast & Furious series. It’s all sound and all fury, and if you’re only in it for some cheap laughs and cool stunts, it’s all awesome.

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“America’s Oldest Teenager”, “Macklemore’s Dad”, it’s all the same really.

The easiest way to explain this film is to start with its McGuffin, named Pandora’s Box. The box is a device the size of an iPad Mini that can reprogram communication satellites and send them crashing out of orbit onto a selected target. And this isn’t some cobbled together piece of terrorist hardware. This is state-of-the-art government technology. America’s latest weapon in the burgeoning cyber wars is a scorched-earth policy on its own communications infrastructure. No one would ever accuse these movies of being subtle.

The device is first used to murder xXx Program Director Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), paving the way for the film to introduce his replacement, Director Marke (Toni Collette). We then witness a team of Pan-Asian terrorists—among them Xiang (Donnie Yen), Talon (Tony Jaa) and Serena (Deepika Padukone)—parkour into CIA headquarters and steal the device right out of Marke’s hands. This prompts Marke to seek out the only man who can hunt down and stop them: The original xXx operative, Xander Cage (Diesel). Cage then puts together his own team of ultimate badasses—sniper Adele (Ruby Rose), car crash specialist Tennyson (Rory McCann), and hype man Nicks (Kris Wu), whose special skill is tactical partying—to take Xiang down and save the world.

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What’s one drink among enemies?

Of course, it’s not as easy as all that, so every 30 minutes or so we get another double-cross more nonsensical than the last. The plot is a pretty threadbare affair. You know where everything is going from the very first scene, but the film has a ton of fun getting us there. From Cage’s introductory scene where he both skis AND skateboards down the side of a mountain in Brazil, to a scene in which Cage and Xiang race dirtbikes over open water, xXx 3 has no shortage of ridiculous stunt sequences. The film even arguably makes better use of Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa’s martial arts backgrounds than Rogue One and Furious 7 combined.

After a certain point, xXx 3 becomes yet another film in which Vin Diesel espouses the virtues of family while busting skulls and crashing cars. It’s actually kind of impressive how quickly he turns this film into what is essentially the cut-rate little brother to the Fast & Furious series. They even manage to coax Ice Cube back for a scene or two, ensuring total franchise continuity. (This was apparently supposed to be a huge surprise for die hard xXx fans, but realizing these people didn’t exist, the studio decided to feature Darius Stone in all the trailers. So don’t act like this is a spoiler.)

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This image alone is more than Ruby Rose gets to do in the new Resident Evil.

Now actively producing both xXx and Fast & Furious movies, Diesel’s impulse to make these films more familial brings them an air of warmth and humanity that their earliest installments completely ignored. The teams Xander Cage and Dom Toretto put together less resemble collectives of work associates, and more close-knit families of misfits. Everyone is equal in each other’s eyes; everyone takes one another’s quirks and hangups in stride.* xXx 3 still features its share of scantily clad women and obnoxious stereotypes (it wouldn’t be a proper early-2000s throwback if it didn’t), but it’s heartening to see even the dumbest of action franchises take steps toward inclusivity. If you’d have told me fifteen years ago that I’d enjoy a xXx movie, and that this would be a factor as to why, I’d have put my own head through a wall.

We live in strange times, indeed.

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*The movie fumbles this in spectacular fashion when it introduces tech geek Becky (Nina Dobrev). The camera takes its time ogling her as she enters the room, only to have Dobrev play her as a thirsty, unfuckable nerd who can’t help but tell Xander Cage her safeword the moment they meet. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.

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Action
Predictable Plotting
A Diverse, Charismatic Cast
The Power of Tactical Partying
Extreme Sports as Chase Sequences

About Joseph Wade

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Joseph Wade is secretly three bulldogs in a trenchcoat. Their favorite movie is Turner & Hooch.

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