The original xXx movie from 2002 pretty much represented the last dying gasp of the ‘extreme sports action’ movie obsession that came from much of the 90’s, kicked off by iconic early 90’s flicks like Point Break and Days of Thunder. Despite its goofy, ridiculous, borderline-outdated final product however, xXx ended up being one of the most beloved action flicks of that year, becoming very profitable for the now-resurrected Revolution Studios, and the movie remains a guilty pleasure for many fans of the genre, even today. Its success was enough to lead to a sequel in 2005, xXx: State of the Union, which dropped xXx star, Vin Diesel completely, in favour of Ice Cube portraying an all-new series lead. Obviously, that didn’t go over very well with critics, audiences or the box office numbers, leading to the xXx franchise taking an almost immediate dirt nap soon afterward, which resulted in plans for a third movie once again starring Ice Cube’s new character to be scrapped.

Now, almost twelve years later, Revolution Studios has decided to revisit the franchise with their return to producing theatrical movies, and they’re definitely not making the same mistake that they did with xXx: State of the Union again. After a long period of development hell, a third xXx movie has now finally made its way into theatres all the way in 2017, and it finally puts Vin Diesel’s Xander Cage back in the lead role. The very title even announces this fact in domestic territories, proudly dubbing the movie, ‘xXx: The Return of Xander Cage‘, though several international territories have instead branded it with a frankly better title, ‘xXx: Reactivated‘.

You might be initially cynical at the idea of a xXx movie releasing long after anyone stopped caring about this movie series, and no one could blame you for that, but surprisingly, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage manages to be decent dumb fun, as long as that’s all you’re looking for. For what it’s worth, it’s also comparable to the original movie in terms of quality, and is definitely an improvement over xXx: State of the Union. This is a movie that probably couldn’t have gotten away with releasing during any month other than January or September, but as a January flick, it’s more disposable entertainment that gets the job done, and can be pretty entertaining to watch with equally laid-back, irony-thriving friends. Obviously though, you’d better leave your brain at the door for this one, if you do intend to partake in Vin Diesel’s latest middle finger towards science, restraint and general common sense.

CHARACTERS

Xander Cage is back at last, and despite almost fifteen years having passed since the original xXx, he really hasn’t changed at all. Now a traveling do-gooder who faked his death to get out of his duties with Samuel L. Jackson’s classic handler, Gibbons (a hasty throwaway explanation that resolves why Cage was claimed to have been killed off-screen in xXx: State of the Union), the self-branded ‘xXx’ is pulled back into field work for the government as the, “Best and the brightest of the bottom of the barrel.” Also, xXx is now an entire program comprised of many agents at this point, making it both a sub-agency and a person in this movie. I guess I shouldn’t expect the script to get any smarter, especially nearly fifteen years after Diesel’s last turn in this series.

This time though, xXx isn’t alone, as he’s bringing a whole posse of similar ‘extreme’ characters to take on the bad guys with him. To the movie’s credit, it does try to make these characters sport a little more depth than their simple-minded story roles too, even if it doesn’t always succeed. Orange is the New Black’s Ruby Rose is a standout among the heroes as animal-loving sniper, Adele Wolff, if for no other reason than Rose having the same sexy charisma as Diesel. You also get Kris Wu as a ladies’ man (I think) DJ, Rory McCann as a seemingly insane stunt driver, and Nina Dobrev, fresh off her former gig on The Vampire Diaries, as a motor-mouthed gadget provider and computer whiz who is probably the movie’s most unfortunately annoying character. It feels like this movie was desperately trying to emulate a personality like Arrow’s Felicity Smoak with Dobrev’s character (in fact, considering Dobrev’s CW connection, I wouldn’t be surprised if Felicity was the exact inspiration for this character), but in a way, Dobrev almost does her job too well, making her annoying nerd simply annoying, without really holding a candle to the rest of the ensemble’s personalities, particularly Rose and Diesel.

True to form, the movie’s apparent antagonists are just as ‘extreme’ as the new xXx crew, performing ridiculous physical feats (Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa are both among their ranks, so that should tell you how they operate), in their quest to steal a bullshit macguffin that can (somehow) perfectly manipulate every single satellite in existence, right down to being able to drop them out of the sky like bombs! Conveniently, it’s never explained how this macguffin came to be or how exactly its impossible tech wizardry works, it’s just something that the characters can all fight over, all overseen by a new CIA handler, played by Toni Collette, who will just make you miss the presence of Samuel L. Jackson as the former handler from the previous movies. Jackson is still in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, mind you, but he has barely five minutes of screentime in this latest movie, and seems like he’s mostly in this offering for a quick and easy paycheque. Why is it that these xXx sequels have so far been missing one of the two lead personalities that primarily made the original movie so popular when it came out?

PLOT

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is a mostly highly self-aware action B-movie that pretty much wears its heart and its complete lack of brains on its sleeve. There’s not one single story element behind this movie that hasn’t been done in another action movie. You could easily declare this to be a more ‘extreme’ and youth-oriented version of The Expendables in that respect, though it’s also far less clever than the first two Expendables movies especially.

The entirety of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage simply seems to exist to revive its franchise, and not really put much effort into a creative, noteworthy or otherwise memorable story of its own. Like I said, this is at least helped by the fact that xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is mostly just as entertaining as the original movie, if you’re willing to accept that it’s a lot of self-aware, balls-out stupidity. The movie actually benefits most when it’s just having fun and being ridiculous too, since the handful of more serious, grounded moments that take place here and there just take you out of the story and become distracting. Those moments aren’t too common, but they definitely don’t help a storyline that’s incredibly derivative throughout its entire runtime, not to mention shallow.

DIRECTION

D.J. Caruso is the latest replacement director for this latest xXx sequel, and honestly, he’s a pretty perfect fit for this franchise. Caruso has had his duds here and there, most notably 2011’s I Am Number Four, but he’s also directed some fairly decent self-aware flicks, such as 2007’s Disturbia. Caruso’s direction is also definitely well-founded in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, since Caruso is clearly aware that he’s not making high art here. Hell, he even actively takes shots at both Jackson’s history as Nick Fury in various Marvel Studios movies, and Vin Diesel’s all-star gig in Universal’s Fast and Furious movie series, with some choice directing winks at various points.

Caruso definitely doesn’t take the experience seriously, just as the audience shouldn’t, and this leads to an action-minded movie with its tongue pretty much bursting out of its cheek. The original xXx has succeeded as a bit of a cult classic among many action movie fans because of how easy it is to enjoy for its over-the-top nature, and wisely, that’s replicated in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, which mercifully takes itself far less seriously than its ill-fated predecessor from 2005. There’s a few awkward edits and some dodgy CGI here and there, but in a way, it’s sort of part of the charm. What matters is that Caruso definitely makes the movie fun for those who aren’t looking for a serious action flick, and don’t mind the fact that almost every sequence in this movie is pretty much asinine from a real-world perspective.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is also available to optionally view in 3D, and the movie was even apparently shot fully in 3D to boot! There’s even an IMAX 3D cut available, and my own screening happened to be the IMAX 3D version of the movie. Since xXx: The Return of Xander Cage was shot with 3D in mind, the 3D presentation is generally pretty solid. It definitely makes the action scenes feel more gripping and visceral, cheekily kicking up a lot of debris and projectiles around the audience, and the sense of scale during the more high-flying moments is captured surprisingly well too, bringing audiences into the thrills pretty efficiently. The IMAX theatre speakers also make the action noticeably more explosive and over-the-top, so if you don’t mind the higher cost, the IMAX 3D cut of this movie is fairly recommendable. At the very least, check out xXx: The Return of Xander Cage in standard digital 3D if you do see it in theatres, since 3D is clearly the format it’s meant to be viewed in, and clearly the way you’ll most enjoy it.

THE VERDICT

You can learn pretty much everything you need to know about xXx: The Return of Xander Cage from its title and its trailers. It’s a silly, disposable, ridiculous, over-the-top and cheekily entertaining action movie that does a fairly decent job of justifying the revival of the xXx franchise, even if that seems to be this long overdue follow-up’s one and only agenda.

Ultimately, I enjoyed xXx: The Return of Xander Cage enough to feel like another sequel wouldn’t actively upset me, even if the tongue-in-cheek action here still feels like it’s ultimately playing second fiddle to Diesel’s bigger, flashier and comparably silly Fast and Furious movies. Maybe Diesel wants some action movie career insurance in case Universal suddenly pulls the plug on the Fast and Furious franchise in the near future (even if it doesn’t currently look like that’s going to happen), but either way, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage plays to its lead star’s strengths, and makes up for its complete lack of originality with a decent sense of dopey entertainment value.

February and its (mostly) better and more ambitious movie pitches aren’t too far away, but if you have a soft spot for dumb action flicks, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage will probably provide you with some solid amusement. I would wait to rent it at home if you don’t have a group of like-minded buddies to enjoy it with in the theatre, especially if they and you are willing to enjoy it in 3D, but considering how long xXx has stayed in retirement until now, it’s pretty amazing to see such a seemingly dated franchise not age a day in 2017, even if it definitely hasn’t gotten any smarter in the interim.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage Review
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is a ridiculous, over-the-top and impressively stupid action movie sequel, though surprisingly, it's pretty entertaining for fans of dumb action flicks.
CHARACTERS65%
PLOT50%
DIRECTION75%
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Diesel's xXx is still an appealing lead
  • Caruso's direction makes for tight, enjoyable action scenes
  • 3D presentation is pretty good, and adds to the action
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Story is completely cliched and unoriginal
  • A few scenes that get a bit too stupid
  • Jackson is barely in the movie
63%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
0%

About The Author

Gaming/Movies/Television Editor

Brent Botsford has reviewed video games and movies for the better part of a decade, and has recently expanded to television. His early love affair with Nintendo shaped his mind into a knowledge base of anything to do with his preferred forms of media. Brent also runs a reasonably entertaining Twitch channel as 'sixth-handsomest gamer on the internet', VenusZen, where he flexes his personality as an acceptable conversationalist, amateur comedian and above-average ladies' man.

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