xXx: Return of Xander Cage


Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder

xXx: The D-Team (The “D” is for Diesel and Diversity!)

Written Review by David Carter

Once upon a time, back in the long forgotten and whimsical era of the late 90’s and early 00’s, there lived a man named Vin Diesel.

Vin was a dork.

He loved D&D and theater.

Vin however, was also unique looking. He was multi-racial, handsome, had a deep gravely voice, and good screen presence. These got him noticed in a small role in Saving Private Ryan and his voice work as the titular character in The Iron Giant. So Hollywood, now facing an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger, decided they would do everything in their power to make this kid the next big action boy for Generation X. So Vin took his looks and interest and attached them to things that walked the line between “Agro-bro Entertainment” and “Dork Fest”. He first had success with Pitch Black playing a character named Richard B. Riddick (Dick B. Riddick if you’re nasty), a sci-fi mercenary, bounty hunter and criminal who can see in the dark. It was B movie up and down. Small location, small but intense stakes, modest budget and pulpy action all around. Next came Fast and the Furious, where he played Dominic Toretto. A street racing criminal with a heart of gold who’s as much about the concept of “family” as he is about sippin’ sweet sweet Coronas.

Both of these eventually became franchises (franchise may be a strong word for Riddick but three movies ain’t shabby) that came back to help resuscitate Vin’s career after some not so stellar career choices. But, there was another movie right in line with Fast and the Furious and Pitch Black that kind of came and went from the public consciousness. A movie that was so aimed at the perceived Mountain Dew drinking, extreme sports watching, and video game obsessed Gen Xers and older Millennials, that in its attempt to make a “cool James Bond for the modern age”, it came back around to being quickly dated and so wildly uncool before it even hit theater screens. That movie is of course xXx.

The problem with xXx, was that its Poochie like aesthetic was apart of its charm. So when Vin opted out of the sequel and Ice Cube took over for xXx: State of the Union, the movies “quality” improved but the hook was gone. Vin Diesel and his dopey Xander Cage character (a name, YA writers from 2003 are kicking themselves for not getting to first) were the heart of the movie. So when the trailer for a xXx movie starring a 49 year old Vin Diesel showed him skiing through the jungle wearing rolled up jeans and a sleeveless button up shirt like an extra straight out of a Limp Bizkit video, I knew I was in for something fun and goofy. That’s what xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is. A goofy, over the top ride that knows how dumb it is. What makes it stand out from the other early year action releases is that it brings a weapon that Vin picked up from his time making the Fast and Furious movies: Diversity and Globalism.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage opens with Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role as NSA Agent Augustus Gibbons recruiting another candidate (a cameo by Brazilian soccer star Neymar Jr.) for the “xXx program” that was founded after Xander Cage’s first mission in xXx went so well. The program seems to be recruiting anyone who has a left-of-center skill sets (athletes, martial artists, and hackers) just like Xander Cage had (who was seemingly killed off screen between the first and second movies). Tragedy strikes and a satellite is dropped on Gibbons and Neymars meeting place, killing them. Afterwards, CIA headquarters is attacked by a team of skilled fighters led by Xiang (Donnie Yen baby!) to steal a MacGuffin called “Pandora’s Box”, a device capable of controlling any of the satellites currently orbiting Earth, and using them like missiles. CIA agent Jan Marke (a totally game Toni Collette) hunts down the falsely deceased Xander Cage in the Dominican Republic (in a scene that echoes Cages own recruitment scene from the first film) and recruits him to track down the people responsible for Gibbons death and the theft of Pandora’s Box. Xander agrees because of his connection to Gibbons, but only under the condition that he assembles his own team.

Xander’s “A-Team” consists of Harvard “Nicks” Zhou played by Kris Wu, a real life Chinese born popstar and rapper who serves as the “Faceman” of the group, sneaking into high profile places and busting out his DJ skills when needed. Scottish actor Rory McCann (most famously “The Hound” on Game of Thrones)  channels “Howling Mad Murdock” in his Tennyson character. He loves pulling off dangerous car crashes that should kill him every single time. Lastly we get the “B.A. Baracus” of the gang in Australian, gender-neutral model, and action star Ruby Rose, playing the gifted sniper Adele Wolff. Everyone of these people (including Vin himself) comes from a different nationality, race, gender and sexual orientation. It should be pointed out the movie was partly funded with Chinese money but that’s feels like a cynical answer to what more seems like Vin Diesel’s commitment to big diverse cast of characters. It’s apparent in the Fast and Furious films where the late Paul Walker was essentially the only white guy in the crew. Even the bad guys in Return of Xander Cage are diverse. Donnie Yens Xiang is Chinese. The character Serena Unger is portrayed by Bollywood star Deepika Padukone. Thai martial artist and all around badass Tony Jaa gets to flex his weirdo muscles playing an unhinged character simply named Talon. You may look at this is a purely economic move but I’ll say from my standpoint as an audience member it was a lot more interesting seeing a diverse cast than a bunch of Jai Courtney’s and Sam Worthington’s running around on screen.

Outside of its casting the movie just works. Well…works on its own terms. The action set pieces are consistently exciting (especially any set piece involving Donnie Yen messin’ fools up) but super trashy and over the top. The standouts would definitely have to be the opening assault on the CIA with Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa showing us why they’re the best in the biz and the final set piece that cross cuts between a warehouse battle and a zero gravity shoot out on a plummeting airplane. This feels like the type of movie that you’re either in or out based on either the scene where Xander sleeps with (AND WEARS OUT) a Harem of women or the super nutty opening scene with Samuel L. Jackson whose Gibbons in this movie barely resembles the Gibbons in the first xXx movie. He’s essentially just playing an impression of Samuel L Jackson from a Spike Lee movie, and honestly I think it’s a plus. Gibbons in the first film was just a less charismatic version of Jackson’s own Nick Fury from the Marvel films (a fact that this movie LOVES to reference) and I think having him lean into his “Samuel L Jackson-ness” is right in line with the movie. The rest of the performances are good. Everyone gets their time to shine at some point, and you can tell Vin is having a blast on screen. There’s a great cameo and one liner near the end of the movie that had me applauding and laughing like an idiot. When the movie kicks into story and plot it slows down (story and plot are not this type of movies strong suit) but when people are bouncing off each other and the fist and bullets are flying, that’s when xXx: The Return of Xander Cage really shines.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage proves that Vin Diesel is at his best when he’s playing in sandbox portraying dopey characters who interact with people of different backgrounds. It’s not quite as good as the Fast and the Furious franchise (but what is?) but it’s definitely better than Diesels last dorky project, The Last Witch Hunter. If you need something to pass the time on a lazy weekend evening, grab some drinks and pop this bad boy in.

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