So once again we have survived.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

It’s weird how long I’ve been anticipating xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. I didn’t actually like the first one very much other than the lovably ridiculous first chunk before the actual mission starts. The second one starring Ice Cube is a fairly enjoyable B movie, but doesn’t live up to part 1 director Rob Cohen’s talk before he and Diesel left. He really sparked my imagination in the interview where he said one of the scripts he was developing “takes place in Washington DC, where, I think, our most colorful character will go up against all the grey men. I can see him mountain-biking on the top of the Capitol Dome, where in a domestic context, as opposed to an exotic context, he gets to shake up old George Bush and all that he represents.”

Nevertheless, ever since Diesel announced his intention to star in a xXx part 3 ten years ago (!) I’ve been anxiously awaiting it. And that optimism, though unearned, wasn’t wrong. RETURN OF XANDER CAGE (no “THE” for some reason) is just the stupid movie I always wanted out of this series.

I get a kick out of the first xXx’s attempt to exploit “extreme sports,” an already-probly-kinda-dated-at-that-time gimmick that was abandoned for Ice Cube’s character. But Xander Cage brings it back with a vengeance. Off the top of my head I remember him performing: high climbs, jungle skiing (did not know that was a thing), downhill skateboarding, motorcycling (on land and sea), a skydive. This is a movie with intentional car crashes, motorcycle front wheelies, a floating brawl inside a falling plane, and surely other things I’m forgetting.

In the goofy opening scene, xXx program founder Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, THE RETURN OF SUPERFLY) is involved in a falling satellite disaster while trying to recruit a famous soccer player (Neymar Jr. as himself). The incident was caused by a deadly device called the Pandora’s Box, explains the CIA’s Jane Marke (Toni Collette, SHAFT) to other intelligence agency people, right before motherfucking Donnie Yen (SPL/KILL ZONE) dives off of a building through a skylight and literally swipes it out of her hand. Marke decides that only the most outrageous, radical, gnarly and x-treme not-your-father’s secret agent of all time, Xander Cage (Vin Diesel, BREAKIN’ IN THE USA: BREAK DANCING AND ELECTRIC BOOGIE TAUGHT BY THE PROS) could possibly deal with this shit.

One problem: they said in part 2 that he was dead. Solution: he’s not dead. Now they say he lives in the Dominican Republic, where he’s sort of a Robin Hood figure who performs daring stunts to help the people. Everyone there seems to be on a first name basis with him, too. This is a wonderful sequence but I will admit that I wish he had a crazy beard and dreadlocks like when we meet him again at the beginning of CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK. Or better yet, a funny wig and/or fake mustache. It’s not clear why he faked his death or why nobody found him, considering he makes no attempt to change his distinctive looks, other than adding additional tattoos. He even rides a skateboard with the xXx logo on it!

I’m no expert on xXxtinuity, but it seems like they’re ignoring the once canonical four-minute DVD extra The Final Chapter: The Death of Xander Cage. In that short, Xander (only shown from the back because he’s played by Diesel’s stunt double Khristian Lupo) got blown up and the tattooed skin from the back of his neck flew out and landed in the street. That’s how they identified him. But now his tattoo is untouched.

Whatever happened, alive and tattooed Xander Cage is convinced to track down Yen’s character Xiang and his team of alleged terrorists, but when Marke tries to send him with a squad of badass spec ops soldiers he dumps them out of the plane because he doesn’t trust them. She asks if there’s anybody he does trust and he says yes and it cuts to Scott Speedman’s character from part 2! And everybody in the theater went nuts!

I’m kidding, it goes into a series of new characters that are the kind of inked and pierced thrillseeking x-tremists that Xander would know. One of them is introduced sniping lion hunters, so you like her right away. Xander builds his team and they butt heads with the other team and then they find out maybe they’re on the same team but they disagree on what to do with the box.

Channeling the spirit of Rob-Cohen-zeitgeist-thirst it’s an aggressively international ensemble. In addition to Chinese Yen and Australian Collette we have India’s Deepika Padukone (OM SHANTI OM, PIKU), Chinese-Canadian Korean pop star Kris Wu (JOURNEY TO THE WEST: THE DEMON STRIKES BACK, VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS), Australian model/DJ/VJ Ruby Rose (RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER, JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2), Thai martial arts superstar Tony Jaa (TOM-YUM-GOONG/THE PROTECTOR, SPL 2/KILL ZONE 2), English UFC Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping, Scottish actor Rory McCann, and Bulgarian-Canadian model Nina Dobrev (THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, THE FINAL GIRLS). I know this is a way to improve chances at the international box office, but the diverse ensemble is perfect for this movie. It’s a cartoonish celebration of the fact that rebels who fight tyrants (as Xander describes himself) exist in all cultures around the world.

There is a plot, but don’t worry about that. The important part is the crazy shit that happens. At one point Xander is chasing Yen’s character Xiang, both of them on motorcycles. Xian jumps his and water skis pop out of the side and he continues in the water. Xander does the same without seeming surprised. So they end up surfing a big wave on motorcycles.

Some of the characters have their own specialty. For example McCann’s character Tennyson is a former stunt car driver, so he’s good at crashing vehicles. The funniest one is Wu’s character Nicks, because one of his biggest contributions is bumrushing the DJ at a club and knowing what to play to make the dance floor hyped enough to create a distraction.

In case someone is out there who really does love the original xXx, there are some callbacks and what not. Even pushing 50, Xander is irresistible to multiple super model type ladies, so he is implied to have got it on with several of them at a time before he repeats his famous-ish line “The things I do for my country.” There is a car that I guess was from the first one that he’s reunited with? I did remember the ridiculous oversized fur coat, and appreciated that he had to travel to England to get it back from an ex.

Admittedly I shook my head at some of the jokes. I’m personally of the opinion that the only thing worse than the “freeze frame to slap the names and descriptions of the characters on the screen” technique is the “freeze frame to slap the names and descriptions of the characters on the screen and the last part is a joke,” so that had me worried. On the other hand, there are some good laugh lines and the overall tone of the movie – patently absurd but not explicitly comedic – exhibits a great sense of humor.

This is definitely my favorite of the series (so far). It takes the faux-rebellious ridiculousness that I enjoyed in the opening of part 1 and sustains it for a whole movie. It mixes in the mild-anti-authoritarian bent of the second one, with rebellious Xander fighting against crooked spies and ending up sort of on the run instead of lounging on a beach like a sellout. It has much more varied and interesting settings and characters than the first one. And it definitely livens things up by using some of the tricks they learned in the FAST AND FURIOUS series: the ethnically diverse team of colorful specialists, uniting Vin Diesel with characters introduced in the episode he wasn’t in, not wasting our time trying to make it grounded.

It lacks the… dare I say substance of the FAST movies, the emotional resonance of the friendships and codes of honor. And Dominic Torretto is a much cooler character than Xander Cage – more serious, more stoic, more honorable. But it’s fun to see Diesel goofing around, being silly, and supposedly doing all these crazy skateboard stunts when he’s nearly 50 and built like a tree trunk. I mean, I guess he’s only a year older than Tony Hawk, but still. He’s goin for it.

Yen is pretty much the co-lead, and definitely does the most fighting (and English speaking) of any of his American movies. I was forced into the 3D version by limited showtimes, but it was worth it just for all the shots of Yen punching toward the camera. And it’s funny to see him fighting Diesel in freeway traffic because it’s almost a remake of a scene in his 2014 film KUNG FU KILLER.

(In fact, they put this in the same auditorium where they show the Hong Kong imports, so it was the same screen I saw that and IP MAN 3 on. The Donnie Yen screen.)

Jaa doesn’t get to do as much fighting – his trademark knee and elbow smashes are weirdly absent – but I like that his smiling, dancing goofball character (apparently named “Talon”!) seems to capture Jaa’s real life personality more than his usual earnest screen persona.

Like the FAST series, this seems to have become Diesel’s baby, producing it without even original producer Neal Moritz on board, let alone original director Rob Cohen. For this one he went with director D.J. Caruso (DISTURBIA, TAKING LIVES, THE SALTON SEA) and screenwriter F. Scott Frazier, who did the John Cusack movie THE NUMBERS STATION and is supposed to be doing the movie version of the video game Asteroids. They’ve done a good job of getting this series where it needed to be. Watching it on “America First” Inauguration Day I was extra grateful for its shameless internationalism and, more importantly, the big dumb smile it put on my face.

SPOILER-FILLED ADDENDUM: One of the things I always wished for in the decade of waiting for this movie was a cameo by Ice Cube as his replacement-for-Vin-Diesel character Darrius Stone. The movie delivers, first in a part that Cube seems to have shot separately from the rest of the cast, but then he actually gets a scene with Diesel where they hug and imply that they could be a team in a potential part 4. It’s a bummer that after keeping it secret all this time they made it the focus of TV and internet ads one day before release. It was still a thrill to see, but I feel like I was deprived of excitement on par with the guy in front of me at X-MEN 3 who flipped out when Vinnie Jones said “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!”

The other thing that happens at the end – Gibbons being not dead – is totally predictable and yet would’ve been disappointing if it didn’t happen. I think it’s funny that I didn’t understand his reason for faking his death (other than limiting Jackson’s schedule) and that it’s basically the same thing that happens with Nick Fury, which they seem to be acknowledging by randomly tinting one lens of his glasses. In some movies such ludicrousness would be a flaw, but in a xXx it’s what you come for.

Sequel requests:
1. Bring back Asia Argento and/or Xzibit.
2. It would be cool if Xander had a mohawk or something
3. It’s never too late to ride a mountain bike up the Capitol Dome
4. underwater monster trucks

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, January 23rd, 2017 at 3:24 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

30 Responses to “xXx: Return of Xander Cage”

  1. So glad you liked it, Vern. It went a bit too jokey for me in spots (the Becky character is clearly the Jar Jar of the xXxiverse) but it was too ridiculous not to love. I managed to stay spoiler-free for the big surprise so I had the full “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” experience. My first big laugh of the year. It couldn’t have come on a better day.

    I’m kind of mad at the white American male at the moment, so I definitely appreciated that the highest listed one in the credits didn’t even get a name. His character name is “CIA Director.” All the other white American men were just there for body count. It was a nice reversal after decades of Hollywood action movies using every other ethnic group as nameless cannon fodder for the above-the-title honkeys to mow down.

  2. Vern, I thought exactly the same thing about Kung Fu Killer!

  3. I had a grin on my face the more ludicrous things got. The fact that they finally made xXx an IMF like team instead of one guy was the best direction to take. The team dynamic made it pop. So did Donnie Yen but for me the most fulfilling and humbling moment was seeing the mountain my mother grew up on (Cibao) up there on the screen. God bless Vin’s love for the good ol’ DR.

  4. SPOILERS

    So I was lucky enough to interview Ice Cube at the UK press junket for Ride Along 2, and I asked him if he was going to be in this. AND HE FLAT OUT LIED TO MY FACE and said no. Luckily I didn’t have it spoiled, so I marked out so hard in the cinema when this happened.

    This also hopefully give credence to my prediction that Cube might turn up Fast 8, since he’s already tight with F Gary Gray, and now him and Diesel are buds.

  5. I would have dug this one more if I didn’t find all the characters obnoxious and kinda hated all of them (non evil government lady villains not with standing). That said, I still mostly enjoyed my time with it. The action was fun and Donnie Yen got to be awesome. For those two things alone I can forgive the Becky character and pretty much 99% of all the characters in the movie (I too liked Jaa’s goofy character and wished he got more to do). I also didn’t know about Ice Cube’s cameo so it was a nice surprise for me, another character I wish had more screen time than most of the cast.

    Despite me really hating the Xander Cage character, I’m still down with this getting more of this series.

    Observation: So I re-watched RIDDICK over the weekend on TV (still mostly awesome) and in there, Diesel keeps hitting on a lesbian and towards the end she even seems to kinda consider it, and here in this movie there is a lesbian character who seems wouldn’t mind making an exception for Diesel’s character. I’m guessing this is a thing for Diesel. Not sure how PC it is (it’s not) but I find it a somewhat amusing thing that I’m guessing Diesel keeps pushing for in some of his movies.

  6. I liked this well enough. So ridiculous its potentially the next TORQUE.

    Didn’t do well domestically. But International Audiences seems to have taken a shine to it. So its possible we’ll get another sequel.

  7. Spoilerish.

    I loved the way Diesel promised the henchman a ridiculously specific death in the second act and fulfilled his promise in the end. (“Took two flushes!”) Because of that it would make a good double feature with Jack Reacher 2.

    Overall I can’t say it’s a good movie but it’s an entertaining one. Like the F&F saga, the promise of the next installment seems more fun than what we actually get on screen.

  8. Wil, what if he didn’t lie, but instead didn’t know at that time and was added in re-shoots?

    I liked part 1 less that most people here, even the ones who already didn’t like it, but yes, I’m I-will-check-it-out-when-it-hits-home-video excited for this one.

  9. Two words describes the only reason to re-visit the first film.

    Asia Argento.

  10. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere I revisited the first two in advance of this one, and having now seen the film I feel that was kind of the wrong approach. Not just because the first is still pretty boring, and the second is less fun than I remembered, but because this plays, smartly I think, like a movie based more on the fond (if not particularly reverent) and fairly vague memories of the first two in the minds of people who haven’t seen the films in a decade or so than the movies themselves. The result is a film as fun as I always wished the first xXx would be.

    It seems we have a consensus that the film isn’t quite in the top tier of its field, and I wouldn’t disagree. I was OK with Becky (probably a step up from the White Gadget Nerd in the first two TBH), but the “adorable conspiracy nut” architype feels more lazy than adorable (and perhaps not so funny in the current climate), but for me the main detriment is the protracted party scene. But it delivers in being a fun, tightly paced, exciting entry which deftly walks the self-parody tightrope without quite falling off (which I was worried it might after the first scene).

    SPOILERS THAT MAY HAVE ALREADY BEEN SPOILT FOR YOU
    And I too was lucky enough to have a “juggernaut” experience, literally cheering in the cinema for possibly the first time in my adult life. I was pleased enough that the film wasn’t explicitly contradicting STATE OF THE UNION early on*, to have 2005 model “new X” himself turn up was a dream come true. We live in a world where the Bond movies have a complicated love/hate relationship with their own (long and short-term) history, and new STAR WARSes are wary of making overt references to film which have probably been loved by more people than have even seen xXx2, but TOKYO DRIFT and STATE OF THE UNION fans, Vin has got your back.

    *DEATH OF XANDER CAGE, which even as a keen snark-abstainer I can’t help but list as one of my favourite things ever, already contradicted STATE OF THE UNION, unless Bora-Bora looks more like Eastern Europe than I realised.

  11. The great thing about Vin is he’s one of those kids who never throws out his old toys. He’ll tinker with them and recombine them in new combinations until they’re fun to play with again. I feel like this is where his inner D&Der comes out, in his instinct to turn every premise, even one as high-concept as “extreme sportsman uses skills to fight terrorism,” into its own mythology. I’m looking forward to THE PACIFIER: REINSTATED, possibly with cameos from Arnold as Kindergarten Cop and Hulk Hogan as Suburban Commando.

    PacMan: I’d forgotten all about White Gadget Nerd (which fits your theory that this movie is based more on your vague, possibly stoned memories of the first two and not the genuine articles) so I guess Becky is a step up. It’s kind of a Michael Bay move to have even the wussy nerd comic relief character be a smokin’ hot babe, but it fits the xXx world.

  12. Just saw this and had an absolute fucking blast with it. Didn’t hurt that we had an entire row at the theatre decked out with genuine fans of this kind of shit laughing and applauding the whole way through. Vibe rubbed off on the rest of the audience too so that by the end the entire crowd was massively into every ridiculous shenanigan the movie through at them and everyone was having a total ball. The movie takes a slump in the middle I guess and some of the new crew felt like they were left floundering a lot of the time and a bunch of the attempts at actually wringing knowing humour from this shit fell painfully flat and yeah the typical techno-macguffin catalyst for the whole adventure is a flatline but jesus man, the opening 20 and closing 40 minutes were about as much fun as I’ve had with a crowd at the movies in I don’t know how long (maybe since FURIOUS 7) which to me equates to a high quality night out at the pictures.

    Also, Vin’s bald head emerging from the water in slow motion during the amazing motorcycle-skiing chase scene has got to up there as far as stupidly absurd glamour shots go in one of these kinds of joints. Kind of can’t wait to see this one again already.

  13. So I drove about 20 miles out of town to see it in IMAX 3D, just because I wanted that huge sound for this movie, and oh man was it worth it. One of the best times I had in a theater despite going by myself. Thankfully the big spoiler moment wasn’t ruined for me and I marked out HARD when that happened.

    Some of my favorite things:

    Donnie Yen gunkata in his first scene

    Riding motorcycles through a roaring wave

    Being part of the “youth” culture since I’m still in college (though I was old enough to see xXx 1 in theaters, so use that to date me), I got a kick out of stunt driver man snap chatting his 200th crash

    I really wanted those gloves that the DJ opened up on the plane to be sonic hand charges that would knock out enemies with the power of dubstep.

    And lastly, the HUGE dichotomy of effort that Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa takes when it comes to breaking into the American market. Yen has such a command of English that genuinely shocked me in Rogue One, and continues to surprise me here, while Jaa is relegated to making snappy clicky noises with his mouth due to the language barrier. Yen takes it so much more seriously here, both with language and his stunts, whereas I think we’re never going to see 2003 Tony Jaa again.

  14. I don’t think you can chalk it up to effort on the English As A Second Language front. As far as I know, Yen has always spoken fluent English (at least he did as far back as the BLADE II special features) whereas Jaa is only now trying to learn it as he attempts to break into Hollywood. You can’t expect someone whose native tongue is a tonal language like Thai to pick up in a few years what someone like Yen (who grew up in a bilingual environment like British-run Hong Kong) had his whole lifetime to master.

  15. In Belgium it’s called “xXx: Reactivated”, so maybe he was cryogenically frozen all those years?

  16. I always figured Donnie Yen spoke fluent english since childhood, since he lived in Boston from age 11-16 (according to his IMDB bio).

  17. I did not know that. That makes sense. I often wondered why Yen, who has a very euphonious speaking voice and a clear command of English, wasn’t in Hollywood movies but Jet Li, who barely picked up the language, was all over the place, but it’s cool that he’s getting his shot now.

  18. No love for the John Woo-esque Deepika Padukone/Ruby Rose gunplay at the end? Complete with back-to-back two-fisted weapon pose? So hot! And how about the grenade tossing tabletop sequence with Diesel/Yen/Padukone? Left me grinning like a fool, that did. Kumquat!

  19. Fun flick, and Yen pretty much being as much the star as Diesel is fantastic.

    The one thing that I didn’t dig at all, though, was that “Lockerbie” reference. Tasteless.

  20. Karlos – I agree. I actually know a guy whose dad died on that plane. He’s an asshole, to be honest, but knowing him makes me attuned to how shitty references like that are. (I think there’s one in a GZA lyric too.)

  21. Being a Scotsman watching the film in Scotland, I can tell you the Lockerbie reference was NOT appreciated here. Other than that, wonderful film.

  22. Finally saw this, and since I was at Sundance when it was released, I also was not spoiled by the TV spots. I’m surprised no one’s brought up that, in addition to being a Nick Fury reference, what happens to Gibbons is also a reference to what happened to him in the previous xXx film. At this point it’s going to have to be xXx tradition.

  23. I remember seeing the original xXx “ironically” when it was in theaters, just to see the kind of people it attracted after The Fast and the Furious created a whole new breed of douchebag amongst my high school classmates. Its sincerity has since grown on me, and it’s a great time capsule for the early-2000s. I’d never have imagined that its sequel (and the F&F sequels, for that matter) would be one of the more entertaining and satisfying movies I’ve seen in quite a while. Really pleased to see they upheld the tradition of Xander promising a very specific death to an ally-turned-adversary. However, disappointed that they didn’t work in his other catch phrase, “Welcome to the Xander Zone!” I feel like if any franchise was going to commit to a cheesy catch phrase it would have been this one.

    Also, why no “The” in the title? It must have been a conscious decision to omit it and I can’t think of a good reason why they would!

  24. $308 million worldwide and counting. We are definitely getting another one.

  25. It’s only $1million ahead of FIFTY SHADIER, so don’t blink and miss out on enjoying that, as per Box Office Mojo’s front page, this is currently the highest grossing film of 2017 worldwide

  26. This movie is totally ridiculous and I loved it. I am on record that Dom is my least favorite part of the F&F franchise, but Xander Cage is so awesome that it is laughably preposterous. I laughed out loud at this movie more than most comedies I have seen in the past year or so. Hilarious (maybe not always intentionally so) and fun.

  27. This movie gave me the idea that they need to have Vin play an evil identical twin to Dom in one of the next F&F films like Van Damme in DOUBLE IMPACT. Then we could get the most epic screen battle of all time Vin Vs Vin, clash of the titians.

  28. CrustaceanLove

    May 3rd, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    They just need to pump out 21 more THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS movies.

  29. I watched this again last night, and it is still a very fun, low-impact romp. Most of the action and joke concepts are better in theory than execution but the enthusiasm of the wacky, colorful cast gives it a major boost. This is exactly the kind of disposable fluff that I can see becoming a perennial rainy Sunday re-watch.

    One thing I noticed this time is in the SPOILER funeral scene at the end, Darius Stone is the only xXx-Man who’s smiling. I suspect it’s because Gibbons pulled this exact same “Oh no I’m dead PSYCH!” stunt on him in the last movie and he wasn’t about to fall for that shit again. Or maybe they were playing the funeral intro from DEATH CERTIFICATE on the set and “The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit” just kicked in. Lord knows it makes me smile every time.

  30. This is easily the best XXX movie to date.

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