Movie Review

  • xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage review

The world is changing, and to cope with these dangerous and deadly changes, it takes a different type of hero. That's the core thesis of the xXx franchise, and that's what has carried it through two films and a twelve-year absence from the silver screen. D.J. Caruso's xXx: The Return of Xander Cage does precisely what the title suggests: it brings the titular hero of the first film back to save the world once again in the most extreme and adrenaline-fueled way possible. However, if a guy like Xander Cage is the only thing standing between us and a global apocalypse, then we should just let the world come to a swift and painless end because this movie is downright terrible.

Let's start from the beginning. Xander Cage is on the run. Fifteen years after saving the world from the threat of Anarchy 99 in the Czech Republic, the reluctant anti-hero has opted to live a relatively quiet life away from Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) and the NSA's xXx program. However, duty calls when a group of highly skilled badasses led by Xiang (Donnie Yen) steals a piece of tech with the ability to control any of the thousands of satellites orbiting miles above Earth. Answering the call of duty once more, Cage returns to action and assembles an unorthodox new xXx team consisting of a sniper (Ruby Rose), an insane stuntman (Rory McCann), a dorky computer genius (Nina Dobrev), and a stealthy DJ (Kris Wu) to kick some ass and prevent world annihilation.

You read that last part correctly, by the way. One of the main characters in this movie is literally a DJ whose unique skill is the ability to have a good time. If that doesn't tip you off for what the film has in store, then I don't know what will. This movie is packed to the brim with endlessly annoying characters, poorly staged action (with one notable exception, but more on that later), and awful B-movie tropes that have been executed far more efficiently in other recent action blockbusters. For the sake of perspective, xXx 3 makes Suicide Squad look like Casablanca.

Despite its relatively straightforward and simple premise (as well as D.J. Caruso's best intentions), the film is awash with pacing problems, continuity issues, and muddled character motivations that just don't hold up as the story wears on. It's a stream of mediocre action glued together by the thinnest possible narrative, and it even features one of the worst "night suddenly turning into day" moments since The Dark Knight Rises. There simply isn't two hours worth of story here to make any of it work, and the film loses all sense of urgency about an hour into its runtime. Throw in a few twists that don't pay off as well as the movie thinks they do, and you have a recipe for one of the most incoherent action movies in recent memory.

You might be tempted to think that I'm holding xXx: The Return of Xander Cage to too high of a standard for a movie like this. After all, plenty of dumb movies have the ability to entertain because they recognize their inherent stupidity and acknowledge their B-movie charm; that's pretty much the entire legacy of the first film. However, The Return of Xander Cage fails to satisfy so many basic requirements to be called even a decent movie that I just cannot grant in the "so bad it's good" leniency. This movie isn't so bad it's good; it's just bad.

However, the biggest issue with the new xXx is the fact that it arguably centers on one of the most unlikeable action movie heroes of all time. This is not the Xander Cage that audiences met in 2002. In the first film, Cage was a brash, tough guy, but he at least understood the gravity of the situation around him, and he seemed like a fairly relatable guy thrust into a deadly situation. By contrast, this movie has reduced the character to a chrome-domed superhero who can survive impossible physical feats without a scratch, stare death in the face with a constant (and endlessly annoying) smirk, and spout terribly written catchphrases that will make you squirm. Here's a note to aspiring screenwriters, "I know mouth to mouth," is not a charming or witty spy movie one-liner for the hero to proudly say to an awe-struck young woman. It's creepy, and so is Xander Cage.

That brings me to a more somber note. Many have voiced concerns over whether or not the Fast & Furious series can survive on Vin Diesel's shoulders in the wake of Paul Walker's tragic death. I hate to say it, but The Return of Xander Cage does little to reassure us that he can anchor a franchise by himself anymore. Dwayne Johnson's job for The Fate of the Furious just got a lot more difficult.

There are only two distinct aspects of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage that ultimately make the film tolerable: Donnie Yen as Xiang and Ruby Rose as Adele Wolff. In a movie that's packed to the brim with completely unlikeable stereotypes, archetypes, and all around douchebags, they are the two that I found myself even remotely engaged by. That's because they're the only two characters who seem to have ideologies that extend beyond living life to the extreme. Yen deserves particular credit, as his fight scenes are the only action sequences in the film that stand out among most of the dull set pieces; the 53-year-old Chinese actor did all of his own stunts in the movie, and it really shows. That said, in the face of everything else that the new xXx gets wrong, these two characters are not enough to save it.

In the end, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is a disjointed and jumbled mess of a movie that tries to resurrect the world's supposedly biggest badass. Considering how the film turned out, maybe Mr. Cage should've just stayed dead.

3 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed rating

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