Although 2017 has only just begun, we're already due for our first big action release of the year. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is slated to hit theaters later this week, and the long-awaited sequel will bring Vin Diesel's titular super spy back into action after a decade and a half away from the silver screen. If you ask me, it's a welcome return, and fans of the franchise should be rightfully excited about what's coming. In the words of Mr. Cage: you've just entered the Xander Zone.

That said, the original xXx sometimes gets a bad rap among action movie aficionados that I think is wholly undeserved. After all, between all of Vin Diesel's major franchises (Fast & Furious, xXx, and Riddick), xXx is the lowest rated first installment. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of reasons why xXx is an underrated action flick from the early 2000s. Check out our arguments and let us know what you think of this under-appreciated spy thriller! To kick things off properly, let's get the ball rolling with one of xXx's most obvious strengths.

The Action Is Really Fun

Let's get the most obvious thing out of the way right off the bat. xXx is packed to the brim with some pretty stellar action. No, it's not quite as gritty or brutal as the post-Nolan PG-13 action films that came out a few years later, but Rob Cohen nevertheless brought his considerable knack for chaos to this movie and put that skill on full display. The incorporation of extreme sports into intense espionage action is a delightful combination, and the film takes particular care to avoid using the same trick twice. From a badass bridge jump at the beginning of the movie to pulse-pounding and explosive motorcycle chase through the streets of Prague, to the final zip line to stop the Silent Night virus (a scene that tragically killed a stuntman when they shot it), xXx brings non-stop action that's impossible to ignore.

Xander Cage Is A Great "Reluctant Hero"

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: xXx is far from a perfect movie. However, even in the face of whatever flaws it might have, I would be remiss for not pointing out the fact that it's a tightly paced hero's journey. The film adheres to a commendable three-act structure, and traces Xander Cage's arc from rebellious pseudo-celebrity to reluctant participant in his mission to badass superspy. Part of it works because the film actively keeps Cage as the sole focus of the story once it introduces him, but much of it also has to do with Vin Diesel's complete and utter willingness to embrace the sheer insanity of the film's core premise -- but we will touch on that later.

It Actively Acknowledges Xander Cage's Shortcomings

This is one aspect of the xXx lore that fell by the wayside as the series progressed, but it's also one of the most fundamental reasons for the success of the first installment. xXx works because it depicts Xander Cage pretty much completely out of his depth for most of the story. He's a talented athlete and a cocky tough guy, but he spends most of the movie struggling to figure out how to properly act like a spy -- plus he clearly gets pretty lucky in most of the action sequences. He forgets to turn the safety off on his gun, he's not that good of a shot, and he seems legitimately frightened by Anarchy 99's abilities when he sees them show off the Silent Night weapon. Xander Cage isn't an everyman on par with John McClane, but xXx does a commendable job with regards to not making him a superhero.

The Film Openly Embraces Its B-Movie Campiness

Not to be terribly blunt about it, but if you watch xXx and think that the movie is playing its story straight, then you need to reevaluate the way in which you watch movies. The film is an unabashed exercise in the delightfully absurd, and it clearly relishes that quality. Sure, xXx features real stakes and some intense action sequence, but the film is built from the ground up as a complete and utter B-movie send-up of the spy genre. The film leans headfirst into its campy nature, and it's all the better for it. Samuel L. Jackson deserves special credit for helping set the tone of the affair (which he similarly did 13 years later in Kingsman: The Secret Service ) as spymaster Augustus Gibbons is the walking embodiment of everything we love about xXx. He's badass; he can crack a joke, and he's (quite literally) rough around the edges.

It Was What the Spy Genre Needed In 2002

One element of xXx that has a tendency to go unnoticed when people look back on it is the fact that it was very much the type of spy movie that the film industry needed back in 2002. The Brosnan-era Bond movies had started to go south, and xXx defined its entire ethos by literally murdering a traditional, tuxedo-clad secret agent in the middle of a Rammstein concert during its opening scene. xXx hit theaters before action movies re-learned how to take themselves seriously in "reboots" like Batman Begins and Casino Royale, and it arguably debuted at the height of the "extreme sports" craze of the early 2000s. In that way, xXx was a direct response to a genre that had most certainly started to stagnate, and the risks that it took with the spy genre formula should be considered nothing less than admirable in retrospect.

 

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