xXx: Return Of Xander Cage Is Vin Diesel In His Purest Form


Director: DJ Caruso Starring: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Ruby Rose, Nina Dobrev, Toni Collette, Sam Jackson Running Time: 107 minutes


You would be forgiven for looking at a title like xXx: Return Of Xander Cage, a straight sequel to a film released fifteen years ago, and wondering why the mysterious Xander Cage is returning now. Or better yet, where has he been for the best part of two decades? The short answer is dead. The long answer involves Ice Cube and a 2005 sequel/reboot hybrid that may or may not be canon depending on how much of a diehard fan you are (does xXx have diehard fans? Let’s assume it does).

Breezily picking up in the present day, where the threat of cyber terrorism looms large, Return Of Xander Cage wisely gives us a Sam Jackson soliloquy right off the bat. Does it matter that Brazilian soccer star Neymar, tasked with acting opposite the great man, might as well be a cardboard cutout for all the enthusiasm or emotion he can muster? Of course not. We just want Jackson to rattle off whatever life lessons he’s got until Vin Diesel shows up to jump off things while smirking and/or drinking a can of Monster.

If only the story stuck with Jackson’s Augustus Gibbons a bit longer or, in an ideal world, had him narrating the whole bloody thing. At least he’s invested in his thinly-written xXx head honcho. Once the action switches to Diesel, and the movie’s fairly ludicrous premise about some kind of super weapon that can crash satellites, everything kind of grinds to a halt. And then quickly whips around to do a couple wheelies while firing off a round of bullets in the process.

Helpfully, but no less shockingly, Toni Collette shows up as a boss lady who recruits Diesel’s Cage and his band of impressively diverse misfits to fight the threat. The setup isn’t the worst, and considering its primary purpose is to put our antiheroes somewhere beautiful where they can let rip and show off their skills, it’s not too far removed from a new-age Bond for a generation whose attention spans are all but nonexistent. Suffice to say though, whenever someone, you know, talks for an extended period of time Return Of Xander Cage lulls significantly.

Let’s face it, if you’re invested in this series then nothing anybody says is going to convince you not to watch this movie. I’m not even entirely sure I wouldn’t recommend that you watch this movie. For what it’s worth, it’s pretty good fun. It doesn’t overstay its welcome. The action is bone-crunching but (understandably) bloodless, even when the bullets are raining down, to ensure maximum appeal to the PG-13 market. The stunts are awe-inspiring with several, genuine “how did they do that!?” moments. And the whole thing has a good sense of humour about itself. It’s goofy. It knows exactly what it is and whose attention it’s trying to get.

The world has changed a lot in the past fifteen years, and as a result the female characters in Return Of Xander Cage are more fully, erm, fleshed out than previously. In particular, The Vampire Diaries‘ Nina Dobrev gets a starring role as a comic relief nerd, while Ruby Rose (too quippy at times, but still a believable bad ass) gets a couple of standout, butt-kicking moments, ahead of her John Wick: Chapter 2 turn, alongside Indian actress Deepika Padukon. There are still some drooling money shots, but they’re few and far between and pass by relatively quickly.

Elsewhere, Asian martial arts stars Donnie Yen (fresh off his Rogue One heat and proving what he can really do when given the chance to unleash) and Tony Jaa are unbelievable in their  jaw-dropping, Raid-lite choreographed fight sequences, the standout of which sees Yen and Diesel duke it out in the middle of oncoming traffic and is brilliantly done. On this evidence, it won’t be long before they’re major stars on this side of the world too (rightfully so).

And what of Diesel himself? Described by a character within this movie as a “Red Bull freakshow” the super-buff lunk, while inhabiting a character whose motivations make zero sense – he makes a big deal of not drinking, but why? Is he a straight edge superhero pitched at dismantling Bond’s “shaken not stirred” reputation? – and whom one could never imagine ever successfully going incognito anywhere in the world, appears to be having the best time of his entire career.

We haven’t seen Diesel smile this big in, well, forever really. He’s been stuck playing perma-frowning Dom Toretto for so long it’s been like he’s forgotten how to have fun. Or that he’s, you know, Vin Diesel as opposed to Daniel Day-Lewis. Playing a character with a greater affinity for wearing jean shorts than John Cena, and absolutely zero quandaries about going to great, death-defying lengths to reestablish a cable connection (one of the movie’s best gags), Diesel is more energised, entertaining and likeable than he has been in years. Maybe ever.

Even when Return Of Xander Cage doesn’t make a lick of sense (which is most of the time, in spite of having its finger on the pulse when it comes to the threat of cyber attacks), Diesel sells it so hard that it’s impossible not to get swept up in the madness. And make no mistake, this flick is balls-to-the-wall crazy, with seemingly everyone rocking fake tattoos apart from maybe Ruby Rose, with Toni Collette chewing the scenery like she genuinely believes she’s playing a Bond villain, and introductory credits that go on for hours and boast possibly the worst use of CGI in the entire thing, setting the scene for what’s to come.

xXx: Return Of Xander Cage may be a brainless romp, but it’s a romp nonetheless. Fast, furious, fun and with a fiercely-committed central performance from Vin Diesel, who casts off the drama-heavy shackles of his other biggest character to kick some ass, get the girl, and most definitely look dope while he’s doing it. You could do a lot worse.

(2 / 5)

 xXx: Return Of Xander Cage is in Irish cinemas now

Joey Keogh
About me

Joey has been writing since she could hold a pen, and watching movies even longer. Aside from acting as Contributing Editor for Wicked Horror.com, Joey also writes for Birth.Movies.Death. She is obsessed with both horror and Judge Judy. Her home boasts Halloween decorations all year round. Hello to Jason Isaacs.

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