xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017) Review!!!

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Synopsis – Xander Cage is left for dead after an incident, though he secretly returns to action for a new, tough assignment with his handler Augustus Gibbons.

My Take – We all can agree that Vin Diesel has made a brand out of himself. Somewhere along the way, Vin Diesel transformed from the seemingly accidental star of generically stupid films into the commanding leading man of transcendently delirious stupid ones, the kind that leave behind all laws of taste, logic, and fundamental physics in service of constantly trying to top themselves. You have to hand it to Vin Diesel! He has become a major star by limiting what he does to a narrow range, so that he can do it well, mainly by two franchises for himself (Fast and Furious & Riddick), the latter, whose recent installment grossed a billion dollar worldwide. Even though, the failure of his recent film aka The Last Witch Hunter seemed like a lost opportunity to raise another franchise, why not go back to a barely remembered 2002 film starring a younger Diesel, and convert into the same sort of multiracial, mixed-gender casting that’s a hallmark of Vin Diesel’s other gleefully over-the-top action franchise. I am sure no one had asked for a sequel to ‘xXx: State of the Union’, but given the phenomenal success in rebooting the ‘Fast and Furious’ series, this modest Vin Diesel franchise has been dusted off the shelves for a third installment. And guess what? Xander Cage is back and better than ever here with a motley crew of good-looking, gun-toting lawbreakers—a squad, if you will—on a mission that’s pure suicide, if you catch our drift. And as expected, this film is an all ludicrous popcorn fun action film that the audience by now should not expect any more from it. Director D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) has made a film whose sole purpose is to entertain with its pumping CGI filled action, with plenty of eye candy, and have a decent plot to give reasoning for the characters to chase and fight each other in every sequence. For all intents and purposes this is a film by Vin Diesel for Vin Diesel. The story follows Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), a presumed dead ex – xXx agent, who has been hiding in Dominican Republic all this years. The xXx is really the name of a National Security Agency’s covert-spy program run by one burn-scarred Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), whose maiden recruit was the thrill-seeking extreme sports enthusiast Xander Cage and counts among its legacy ex-con Darius Stone (Ice Cube).

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As Augustus would have you and Brazilian pro-footballer Neymar know in his wry tongue- in-cheek opening, the ‘Triple X’ program has been very much alive in the decade since Ice Cube‘s Stone took over Vin Diesel‘s Cage for the underwhelming follow-up back in 2005. However, when Augustus Gibbons is killed by a satellite brought down from orbit by a hacking device known as Pandora’s Box, a device which can control the satellites and cause destruction, Xander is reluctantly brought back in by NSA chief, Jane Marke (Toni Collette). Xander is handed down an assignment to track down the stolen device from the highly trained, impossible-to-trace team of criminals led by Xiang (Donnie Yen) and his followers, Serena Unger (Deepika Padukone), Hawk (Michael Bisping) and Talon (Tony Jaa). In classic working-class-hero fashion, Xander immediately, and literally, jettisons the team of elite military soldiers assigned as his backup, opting instead to use his own crew. Compared to the usual specialist variety brought to such teams, Xander’s crew is more personality-oriented than tactical: Tennyson Torch (Rory McCann), a madman crash enthusiast; Nicks (Kris Wu), a DJ whose talent, as listed in one of the film’s many freeze-frame fact sheets for its characters, is being “fun to be around”; Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), a skilled sniper who’s simultaneously the most developed and stereotypical of the group. Adele is a cavalcade of pithy sayings framed by hot-blue, cropped hair—coded as sexually ambiguous in much the same way that you can spot a boat if you stare long enough at a J.M.W. Turner painting. And finally we have the CIA sanctioned fast talking IT expert Becky Clearidge (Nina Dobrev). The mandate of the franchise is summarized succinctly in this exchange by Augustus Gibbons: “Let me simplify it for you. Kick some ass, get the girl, and try to look dope while you do it.” with Xander Cage replying: “I could definitely make that work.” Cage quickly tracks down his nemesis at a floating rave for arms dealers, and after chasing each other on motorcycles with water-skis strapped to the bottom and then the truth comes out. From there on out, the film is nothing but back-to-back action scenes, jumping from warehouse shootout to sky-high martial arts showdown and back again. This is a brainless action film that can get ridiculous from messing with the laws of physics during a fight scene in a military plane. But the film does well in delivering the big loud action sequences. Sure, the filmmakers are not focused on a strong story or character development. As long as the action can top the previous scene and get insane and entertaining. There is plenty of exciting action sequences from an intense motorcycle chase that takes place riding above the water and into the waves. Or the fight sequence with Vin and Donnie running on top of moving semi’s and into a high-speed traffic. Or the zero gravity of a military plane falling was insane. Oh yes, if you haven’t already guessed, this installment is really a thinly disguised reboot of the franchise as an ensemble – and so much like how Diesel‘s Dominic Toretto was the de-facto leader of the team in the more recent ‘Fast and Furious‘ additions, his Xander Cage assumes a similar role rallying his ‘Triple X’ cohorts together against a bunch of hawkish insurgents within the US Government who want the device as their own ‘nuclear football’. If their rapport isn’t quite as infectious, it is partly because the supporting cast isn’t quite as charismatic in their own right as that in ‘Fast and Furious’ (there’s no one here that even comes close to the sheer comic relief of Tyrese Gibson and Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges) and partly because there is hardly enough narrative space for each side character to define his or her own personality. As it is, most of the attention is spent developing the pseudo tension between Cage and Xiang and the genuine sexual tension between Cage and Serena, not that each does not offer up its own unique pleasures – especially during the final act, Diesel and Yen have great rapport between them, which to fans of the latter is reassurance that he is not simply some token big-name Asian inclusion. The difference in Xander’s demeanor between the first and third film in the series is immediately apparent and says more about the shift in social perspective between 2002 and 2017 (at least from what I remember) than the script’s occasional lapses into political commentary.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Where the film largely endorsed the surveillance state as a necessary reaction to WMDs and global terrorism, this film presents Xander as someone even less eager to work for the man than he was as a punk kid, and his wariness reflects a pervasive distrust of that same security apparatus in the wake of the last 15 years of foreign policy. Many of the film’s weakest moments come from drawing too much attention to this fact verbally when Diesel’s sardonic interactions with National Security Agency chief Jane Marke convey plenty of disgust without being too explicit. There are always limitations to this type of film. The dialogue frequently dips into humor at the level of a Roger Moore-era James Bond flick, and sometimes the plot, not to mention shot-to-shot continuity itself, breaks down as director Caruso sprints from sequence to sequence. But such quibbles dissipate in the face of the giddiness of the action, which builds to such a relentless head that even the serious stakes of the film’s motivation give way to a largely pleasant vibe. After that cringe inducing opening stanza – and then another scene set in a London hotel that pretty much redefines the phrase “gratuitous bikini” for a new generation – Xander Cage actually lifts its game and settles in to become the film we bought our popcorn for: A physics defying, thunderously loud, candy-coated and joyously preposterous load of weapons-grade stupidity. The parade of stunts, one more eye-popping than the next, emphasizes the ability of the human body to undergo all manner of punishment. A visual joke about Hollywood superhero films, which rely on gadgetry and visual effects to achieve the same effect, is present in the mean-looking pneumatic gloves that an American Army soldier wears to try and punch some sense into Xander. For Xander, his naked fists and wits are all he needs. Adrenaline junkies with Red Bull in their veins have plenty to chew on in this film, even though the story gets so-simplistic-that-it-is just ridiculous, other times; it just reminds you one of Bollywood’s harebrained actioners that are made only for the sake of quick bucks. But hey, what did you expect? Did director D.J. Caruso & producer Vin Diesel promise you an Oscar worthy film? Nope, it just promised entertainment & never lets logic get in the way of spectacle. Vin Diesel shines as Xander Cage. Diesel basically tries to portray that brat with a good heart and quick wit whom we can’t help but love. Whatever franchise Diesel is added to will be a crowd puller, no two doubts on that! This film is no different, mainly as the action sequences seem tailor made for Diesel & he looks stylish and performs his role with ease. Donnie Yen is excellent. In fact, it is Yen‘s lightning-quick gongfu moves (marred by some hyperactive editing) that steals the spotlight from Diesel‘s showy but ultimately unrealistic daredevil stunts. Deepika Padukone‘s fans too can rest easy; not only is the actress never asked to justify for speaking in her native English accent, she pretty much holds her own next to Diesel when it comes to butt-kicking. On the other hand, Tony Jaa is lost amidst the noise and fury, and even more so than in ‘Furious 7’ gets a thankless bit role with his hair dyed blond and little more than a cheeky demeanor to show for. Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) is hilarious & holds her own too. Canadian-Chinese actor Kris Wu, Ruby Rose, Rory McCann (Sandor Clegane from the Games of Thrones), Michael Bisping, Samuel L. Jackson & Toni Collette play their parts well. It should also be said that Ice Cube’s cameo is milked for as much as it is worth, showing up at a critical moment that will surely have you cheering. On the whole, ‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ is a dumb but cool, clichéd but refreshing film that should be viewed as nothing but hilarious and harmless entertainment.

.3

Directed – D.J. Caruso

Starring – Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 107 minutes

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