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xXx: Return of Xander Cage Review

"Kick some ass, get the girl, and try to look dope while you're doing it."

“The return of who?!” I hear you cry. It’s been a long time since Vin Diesel kickstarted the xXx franchise way back in 2002, but this is the era of sequels and reboots: what better time to bring it back?

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, in the first film Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) recruits Xander Cage (Diesel), an extreme sports athlete, to the xXx program, where he gets to take down bad guys. In the second film, Jackson recruits Darius Stone (Ice Cube) to do a similar thing with a different backdrop. Now Cage is back and better than ever.

You should be warned now if you’re a boring person you won’t like this film. If you’re looking for some intellectual engagement, look elsewhere. If, however, you’re looking for some nostalgic fun, some laughably good stunts, and a few old fashioned explosions? This is the film for you.

The best thing about this movie is that it knows exactly what it is, and revels in it. There’s a lot of stars, a lot of action, a healthy dose of quips, great team chemistry, and absolutely no attempt to take itself seriously. It’s actually pretty refreshing amongst all those superhero films that go a little too far in asking their audiences to suspend their disbelief and take seriously the ridiculous. Xander Cage invites laughs, amid the gasps of appreciation at the insane motorbike tricks (spoiler: at one point they turn into jet-skis).

Diesel is his big, bulging self in a way that we’ve all grown comfortable with throughout the Fast & Furious franchise. He’s lovable rogue, fighting for the good guys on the wrong side of the law, with a mean punch and a whole lot of style. It’s not exactly Oscar-worthy, but he delivers on his one-liners and hits the emotional beats when he has to. He really is great at bringing together a team of people and turning them into a family, both on screen and off!

The team consists of Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black) as sharp-shooter Adele Wolff, Rory McCann (Game of Thrones) as crazy driver Tennyson Torch, and Chinese star Kris Wu as DJ Nicks. You might wonder how the DJ fits into this team of secret agents… well, his special skill is listed as “fun to have around” in his introduction freeze-frame, if that helps! Both structurally and stylistically, this film has a lot in common with Suicide Squad — whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is hard to say. From the team of not-exactly-squeaky-clean misfits on a mission from the government to the trading card freeze-frame intros and not to mention the dedication to aesthetics. It will surely suffer the same fate, with fans enjoying it for what it was, and critics slating it for what it wasn’t.

Facing off against the xXx team: the bad guys who stole Pandora’s Box, a piece of tech with the ability to drop satellites like bombs. This team is if anything cooler than the first. You’ll recognize Hong Kong action legend Donnie Yen from his role as Chirrut Îmwe in Rogue One last month. His fight scenes are as jaw-dropping as ever, and his quips aren’t half bad either! Also making the leap to Hollywood, Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone plays the gun-toting Serena, bad guy with a conscience, who catches Xander’s eye. Rounding off their team are incredible Thai martial artist Tony Jaa and British hardman Michael Bisping.

Toni Collette plays the government agent in charge, whilst Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) shines as gawky tech genius Becky aboard the massive every-kid’s-dream spy plane that acts as their base. The film pretty much consists of all these cool people chasing each other round beautiful exotic locations and either fighting each other, dancing or playing some next level game of hot potato with grenades. Vin Diesel skis down a jungle mountain, Tony Jaa kicks a guy off a speeding motorbike and then backflips onto it, Donnie Yen takes out a whole room full of guys with nothing but his bare hands and leather jacket. It’s amazing.

Fun stuff aside, there’s a warehouse shootout sequence in the second half that plays out pretty much exactly like Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, chosen as the London Film Festival Closing Gala film, so there’s no claiming xXx isn’t sophisticated.

Overall, the twists are predictable and it could have done with less plot-irrelevant girls in bikinis, but they’re balanced out by a diverse cast of fully fleshed out and fully dressed women, and nobody’s really watching for the plot. There’s a phenomenal cameo from a big-name sports star to which I won’t ruin for you! Go see the film! You won’t regret it. This film is like one of those Slurpees you can get at the cinema — big and overpriced, obnoxiously brightly colored, sugary and ridiculous and you know it’s bad for you, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Treat yourselves.

Rating
6.8
Pros
  • Incredible fight scenes and mindblowing stunts
  • Wonderfully and effortlessly diverse cast
  • A whole lot of fun
Cons
  • Predictable plot, twists and all
  • Lacklustre master villain

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Classics student, superhero fan, movie enthusiast.

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