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Arts, Movies & TV

Movie Review: ‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ satisfies as an action spectacle from a bygone era

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Dan Nicholls Jan 20, 2017 12:56 am 530

2017 is turning out to be the darkest of timelines so far. We’re staring down certain annihilation with the inauguration of a petulant child to the most powerful position in the world, Earth’s temperatures are at the highest they’ve ever been, and there are more reboots, sequels, and prequels at the movies than ever. Maybe a throwback to early 2000’s mindless action spectacles isn’t what we need. Surprisingly, such a nostalgic look backwards might be the most comforting escapism we could want at the multiplex in today’s day and age.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage - Movie Review - Daily Hive

Paramount Pictures

For what xXx: Return of Xander Cage aims to do it does efficiently and with little prejudice for modern decency, common sense, or logic. That would usually be enough to condemn a picture for failing to try to do anything worth recommending. But for a movie where Vin Diesel races a motorbike on water it’s better (in a pure enjoyment sense) than what we as audience members perhaps deserve. Despite all its inherent sloppy storytelling and dated pseudo-macho manliness, the unheralded Return of Xander Cage turns out to provide the the exact type of distraction we didn’t even know we wanted this weekend.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage - Film Review by Dan Nicholls - Daily Hive

Paramount Pictures

It was a decade and a half ago that the first xXx exXxploded onto screens with blockbuster grosses and instant cachet among the tweenage crowd. Three years later a follow up, xXx: State of the Union, removed the Diesel factor and instantaneously diminished its raison d’être. This series should have always remained a vehicle for Vin Diesel to crack some smiles and toss a few jokes out while looking as muscular and manly as can be. Return of Xander Cage loves to thrown in callbacks to the first film so it is fitting this 2017 update maintains the same affirmations as Diesel and company faced in the mirror in 2002: “Save the world, get the girl, and try to look dope while you do it.”

Vin Diesel in xXx Return of Xander Cage - Movie Review - Daily Hive

Paramount Pictures

What the Fast & Furious movies carried with them in melodramatic weight is neglected in the xXx movies in favor of goofy stunts and cheerful nihilistic destruction. This job description fits the enthusiastic and agreeable Vin Diesel very, very well. As a producer and a star Diesel knows what the game’s all about and he doesn’t strive to reach for unreachable goals for one second. Its sub-moderate goals are easily attainable for our bald hero and his wide reaching net of compadres.

Ruby Rose in xXx 3

Paramount Pictures

Long believed to be dead, Xander Cage is the world’s secret remaining hope for global peace when a new deadly weapon lands in the wrong hands. Hunted down by the stern Jane Marke (Toni Collette, what is she doing here?) to come back to the government special ops program from whence he came, Xander immediately starts piecing together a team of multiethnic individuals with a bevvy of useful talents. Together this xXx superteam stares down the most impossible of physical obstacles in the name of stopping global destruction. As formed by the scar faced Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), this diverse roster of antiheroes suits up for the challenge without too much coercing.

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A badass DJ in xXx: Return of Xander Cage - Movie Review

Paramount Pictures

Despite his face being plastered on every piece of advertising for the film, the whole setup is basically an excuse for Vin Diesel to flex his muscles as a producer. The man brought a dead franchise back to life almost single-handedly and is clearly looking to set himself up with a backup action series he can smirk and grunt his way through. As the Fast & Furious movies evolved into expensive celebrations of Diesel’s “family,” they became somehow also more grounded in a relatable level of fantasy entertainment. More or less the same tactic is applied here, with a new “family team” left ready to xXx their way through any conflict in the next instalment.

Film Review - XXX: Return of Xander Cage - Starring Vin Diesel

Paramount Pictures

If xXx: Return of Xander Cage was released in 2004 it would’ve been a huge box office hit. Instead it enters a world that’s sort of grown out of the series’ charms. Unfortunately, this also means the film feels insanely outdated at times; for all its progressive casting, xXx also finds comfortable time to work in the ‘male gaze’ of countless female bikini bodies. The action sequences are equally out of place in today’s modern sensibilities but they retain an air of appeal because of their anachronistic place in time. Plus Vin Diesel rides a motorcycle on water for God’s sake. If you can’t giggle at that thought perhaps you should consider lightening up just a tad.

Vin Diesel on a motorbike - xXx 3

Paramount Pictures

The stacked deck of international superstars does assist in providing some assurance of broad box office appeal. Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Deepika Padukone, and Ruby Rose maybe couldn’t turn many heads in North America but once you cross any ocean either one of those names could attract audiences larger than most Hollywood A-listers could only dream of. Plus we’ve got Nina Dobrev from TV’s The Vampire Diaries adorably playing up a stereotypical tech geek with a naughty side.

Donnie Yen - xXx: Return of Xander Cage - Movie Review

Paramount Pictures

The crew jumps, punches, and kicks its way through one improbably scenario to the next. There’s little in the way of plotting or story to propel sequences forward. But as in the Fast & Furious films as of late there’s an undeniable charm in the compatriotism of its central heroic roster. It’s supremely cheesy to see Vin build himself another cinematic “family” to embrace but it’s also kind of heartwarming too. The man wants to love his brothers and sisters and make some mindless action entertainment for the masses. He just might be the next savant the film industry needs to keep its head above water as we sail into uncertain territory.

The xXx Fam - Movie Review

Paramount Pictures

It isn’t easy to recommend a movie as brainless as this. But this critic firmly believes that any well-balanced cinematic diet has to even out the artistic veggies with some greasy melted cheese. This movie is nothing but not corny late night fast food binging but I’ll be damned if it isn’t fun. On a weekend where the world takes a gigantic dark turn for the worse, perhaps we could stand for a little overly optimistic heroism stuffed to the gills with over-the-top thrills.

Three out of five!

3 out of 5 for xXx Return of Xander Cage

“xXx: Return of Xander Cage” is rated PG-13 and now playing everywhere. Runtime 107 minutes.


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Dan Nicholls
Dan is a lifelong movie geek who's been a projectionist, critic, director, (accidental) actor, and writer in the industry since E.T. phoned home.

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