In 2002 Vin Diesel and Rob Cohen gave James Bond a run for his money with a new kind of spy. This undercover operative worked to the extreme, utilizing his fast lifestyle and addiction to adrenaline in tactics Bond would never even think of. His designation was xXx, named from a tattoo on the back of his neck.
Three years later and that tattoo has changed everything. Despite the fact that Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) seems to treat agents like a one-shot camera, his entire agency has adopted the xXx tattoo as their logo, pasted on the walls and doorways of the agency headquarters. We only get a brief look at that headquarters before it’s under siege by high-tech soldiers whose target is Gibbons himself. Gibbons and Agent Toby Shavers (Michael Roof) quickly find themselves on the run, and on the hunt for a new “xXx”.
They find that new spy in the form of Darius Stone (Ice Cube), a former member of Gibbons’ Navy Seal squad who was arrested and locked up for punching a senior officer in the same sequence of events that gave Gibbons his scarred face. Conveniently that senior officer is now the Secretary of Defense. Since he’s the one who caused both Gibbons and Stone’s problems, and he’s played by Willem Dafoe, you know he’s going to end up being the bad guy. Soon Stone has been broken out of prison and adding his own unique flavor of attitude to the world of spydom.
As a cookie-cutter, summer popcorn action flick, xXx: State of the Union is not a bad movie. It’s got everything you would expect from a cookie-cutter summer flick - big explosions, charged music, lots of gunfire, and cheesy dialog. That also means it has all of a cookie-cutter film’s downsides too - villainous monologuing, cheesy dialog, and an army of enemies who can’t hit the broadside of a barn even when they have superior numbers and firepower. In fact, the enemy army in State of the Union is the U.S. Army, so I guess that tells us how much we’ve recovered from 9/11. We can now paint the Army in a way that makes Star Wars’s stormtroopers look capable.
As a sequel to xXx, State of the Union is a bit of a failure. The two movies really don’t have anything in common other than the characters of Gibbons and Shavers. Of those, Shavers isn’t so much a character as a archetype of the nervous technically skilled sidekick, and Gibbons isn’t the same character in this sequel as he was in the first movie. Everything that made Samuel Jackson’s persona cool in the first picture - the air of mystery, the scarred face, the strangely inspirational speeches, are all ruined in an effort to flesh out his character and make him more involved in this movie. Gibbons trades in his shadowy operation for a background story and an underground headquarters that resembles the X-Men’s base. Wouldn’t it have been easier for the filmmakers to avoid the flack attached to a xXx sequel without its director or star, and just have made this a completely new movie? Sure, they would have missed the chance to poke fun at the original, which is about the only way this picture recognizes the first one, but it would have given the flick a chance without all of the baggage.
Instead xXx: State of the Union attempts to duplicate the feeling of the first movie, without being the same. Does that make sense? It doesn’t when you watch it either. Ice Cube blatantly states that he doesn’t do all of the extreme crap the previous xXx did, but then he proceeds to complete stunts that would have been right up Xander Cage’s alley. Sure some of the movie uses Stone’s street attitude motif, but it’s as if the writers halfheartedly adjusted part of the script when they were told the new xXx would not be Vin Diesel. As a result you get some stunts that look like they were intended for Diesel’s character in the early part of the flick, and then some stuff that is better suited for Ice Cube later on in the movie.
Still, if you can put aside how unnecessary this sequel is, it really does have some cool moments. The opening sequence where Gibbon’s headquarters is under siege is easily on par with the opening of any James Bond film. Other action sequences are just as breathtaking and adrenaline filled as anything you’d expect from this kind of film. Sure, there are spots of green screen and CGI, but this is not a movie you’re supposed to think during, so you shouldn’t notice those. Check your brain at the door, sit back, and enjoy a bevy of cheap laughs and fast action.