Review: XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE Is Legitimately Expendable

Vin Diesel returns to the xXx franchise, joined by Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Deepika Padukone and Samuel L. Jackson

Asian Editor; Hong Kong, China (@Marshy00)
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Review: XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE Is Legitimately Expendable
Vin Diesel resurrects extreme sports secret agent Xander Cage for this belated third entry in the xXx franchise, 12 years after Ice Cube last carried the torch for counter-culture covert operatives. Boasting a large international ensemble and a globe-trotting espionage plot, the film hopes to align itself with Diesel’s Fast & Furious franchise, or at least its huge box office returns.
 
The first challenge facing xXx: Return of Xander Cage is that its eponymous antihero is dead. In fact, every character worth their salt in the xXx franchise has been killed off at one point or another. So when Augustus Gibbons, Samuel L. Jackson’s scar-faced, Nick Fury-esque handler who runs the NSA’s “Triple X” spy programme, is murdered (again) - immolated by a falling satellite this time - Toni Collette’s hang-dog stand-in, Marke, goes looking for Cage. Luckliy, Cage’s idea of lying low is dry-skiing his way through the jungles of the Dominican Republic, stealing free cable for the locals, every one of whom chants his name for all to hear.
 
It’s all because a device, clumsily branded “Pandora’s Box”, has been stolen. In the wrong hands it can disable any one of 30,000 satellites and send it plummeting to the Earth in spectacularly lethal fashion - as Gibbons and Brazil’s beloved Neymar Jr (don’t ask) recently discovered. Nobody can identify the high-kicking, fast-shooting thieves responsible (except it was very obviously Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Deepika Padukone and some UFC dude), but fortunately, Marke knows a guy. Re-enter Cage, who sets about putting together his own team of unremarkable expendables to help save the day.
 
Cage’s team consists of a sassy lesbian sniper (okay), a Glaswegian stunt driver with a death wish (but it's The Hound from Game of Thrones, so fine) and a Chinese DJ. Yup. Kris Wu can't throw a punch or disarm a bomb, but his character is introduced as "fun to be around" and can work a mixing desk, so he’s in. What his dossier should have read was “has mainland teenage appeal”.
 
None of the films in the xXx franchise can be described as good, and xXx3 (for brevity’s sake) isn’t about to change things. Released in 2002 off the back of Diesel and Rob Cohen’s Point Break re-hash, xXx introduced Cage as a very specific form of anti-establishment hellraiser. In the current climate, Cage more closely resembles some kind of proto gamergate bro, jacking the car of a senator lobbying against violent video games, and driving it off a bridge in front of his adoring YouTube fans. A Snake Plissken for the snowboarding set. It was a quaint idea to make a character like this into an international secret agent. This was the same year Bond gave us Die Another Day, after all.
 
Where xXx differed from Point Break and its other contemporaries was by flipping the formula, by bringing the outcast into the system. Rather than have a Johnny Utah or Brian O’Conner attempt to infiltrate these free-wheeling renegades, xXx brought the finest counter culture renegade into the agency, and all the expected friction, insubordination and deadpan one-liners followed. Fourteen years on, the “Xander Zone” proves as wincingly awkward as it sounds, while Fast & Furious applied the exact same model, evolving Toretto’s motley crew of street racers and hijackers into the free world’s only hope, and made billions with it.
 
Unfortunately, telling compelling stories about “extreme sports athletes” is a profoundly tricky undertaking. When not doing those things they do, these are pretty boring, douchey guys (and gals. There’s always one). When not risking life and limb in the most spectacular way possible - in increasingly exotic locations - they sit around philosophising and fire juggling, sketching out their next tribal tattoo design or toasting the importance of family uber alles. And here’s where the film falls apart. The film's biggest weakness is exactly what was touted as its biggest strength - mass global appeal thanks to a diverse, international cast.
 
With stars hailing from India, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Australia, the U.K. and Brazil rubbing shoulders with the Americans, xXx3 has a lot at stake and many markets to appease. While managers, agents and publicists scramble to get their client more screen time, the film is pulled in 10 different directions at once and can't find its focus or rhythm. 
 
Where other recent ensembles - The Avengers, Fast and Furious, even The Expendables - developed camaraderie between characters through witty banter and off-the-cuff performances, too often here it feels as though actors are giving their all just to get their lines out. Not to criticise the linguistic limitations of these performers - this isn't Brad Pitt in Allied - but when your cast can’t develop a natural rapport off-camera it clearly has an impact on the final product up on the screen.
 
All that said, Donnie Yen's late bid for Hollywood fame seems finally to be taking hold. Again he manages to steal the spotlight from his co-stars, as he did so applaudably in Rogue One. Sadly, the talents of Tony Jaa are completely wasted, reduced to the occasional backflip and “mum” joke. Deepika Padukone can certainly rock a pair of knee-high leather boots - even on the beach - but she can't produce a single spark of plausible sexual chemistry with Cage - though I will concede this may be Diesel’s failing more than Pudokone’s. The amount of action Cage gets in just the first 15 minutes of xXx3 more than eclipses any of the film’s stunt sequences, while proving even more baffling and implausible. And that includes surfing on a dirt bike.
 
So the real action hero role falls to Yen, who not only secures himself a couple of showcase moments for his multiple martial arts disciplines, but further bolsters his “badass with a conscience” screen persona that can only enamour him with Western audiences further. The series would be wise to bring his character, Xiang, back in the future - or even hand it off to him completely as their new lead. 
 
Elsewhere, Nina Dobrev’s tech support girl would like you to know that her safe word is "kumquat". Which is really everything you need to know about the tone and quality of the film.
 
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Deepika PadukoneDJ CarusoDonnie YenSamuel L. JacksonTony JaaVin Diesel

More about XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage

ZetobeltJanuary 19, 2017 10:28 AM

It's a shame. Great cast. Minus Vin Diesel.

Todd HarringtonJanuary 19, 2017 10:43 AM

Took my 11-year old and he liked it, so there's that..? I couldn't take my eyes off the on-going war between the crows-feet and HGH-vein-bulge on Vin's face.

RobbieJanuary 20, 2017 11:12 AM

You're not one of those butthurt anti gamers are you? GG was 2 years ago, fam. It would be in the best interest of the press not to rile it up again.

The_Last_RideJanuary 23, 2017 8:30 AM

What the hell is wrong with you? What has this got to do with Gamergate? Gamergate is about gaming, journalism and creative freedom.... You're an idiot