Darke Reviews | xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)


Do we have a January that isn’t complete garbage; for the movie industry anyway. I mean Underworld was very fun, with some return to the 90’s and early 2000’s gothic vampires. Next week we get the ever ridiculous franchise capper for Resident Evil, and tonight we have another long running franchise returning to us. Much like the other two films, I didn’t/won’t go into this expecting much. My exact quote was “I expect this to be ridiculous action, if it delivers that I will be happy.”

So the question is did it deliver?

Written by F. Scott Frazier, writer for the conceptually interesting but underwhelming Numbers Station and former QA for video games, he returns us to the world of the xXx program. A secret arm of the NSA designed to blend in with groups and people that trained spies and hardened military cannot – and look dope doing it. The last part was their words, not mine.  He snaps us back into the world of spy vs spy vs the street that we haven’t seen since 2005’s horrific sequel xXx: State of the Union. I am guessing Vin Diesel is looking for any franchise he can keep going now that he’s matured a bit and likes the steady paychecks. He’s not wrong to come back to this one. Fraziers story feels right at home with the world the previous two created. The parts that don’t – we will get to in a minute.

D.J. Caruso (I Am Number Four, Eagle Eye) is at the helm on this and seems to have a decent vision for how to make this part of the world and look good doing it. Decent, but not great. I think he, cinematographer Russell Carpenter, and the film editors Vince Filippone and Jim Page have some explaining to do. They need to explain to me and you why when you have Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen you need to shoot them in extreme close up,  hand held cameras, with snap and sharp edits. You have two of the most amazing martial artists on screen and we can’t watch them because your combat scenes are a chaotic mess. Sure you can make out some of it and enough to know what’s going on but it is all so very bad American filmmaking on this part.  It is just awful to not be able to really enjoy the fights the way that should have been possible with the cast assembled.

Secondarily, and creepily, Diesel is turning 50 years old this year. Out of context that’s awesome for him to be in such great shape, still fun to watch, and charming. What is not ideal is pairing his character with female characters who are almost literally half his age and look it or even younger. Look people can fall for who they want to fall for, but its still a bit unnerving and on top of it very Hollywood to put the leading man with a significantly younger woman rather than someone even remotely close to their own age. It’s not a major sin of the movie, but its still a sin that I can’t not comment on.

From an acting perspective – oh come on this is xXx, everyone is here for the paycheck, the title, and the fun. It shows. I told a coworker this movie better have its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. I think it had it planted in mine. Literally everyone looked like they were just having fun with their role. Diesel was as solid as you’d expect and made a good on screen partner (and ship) to Donnie Yen (Rogue One, Ip Man). Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black, John Wick: Chapter 2) made her presence known and stands out amongst the crowd. Apparently I get to see her in Resident Evil next week. I also may have a slight crush on her character (or her) who was a sniper and again made it fun. Indian actress Deepika Padukone steals the show and eats scenery almost as much as Ruby Rose. Both these women easily upstaged the action sequences and most of the movie any time they were on screen. This looks to be her first Hollywood production and I can only hope we get more of her. Her and Rose have some serious charisma and even if a script isn’t that hot can make you not care with pure charm. Game of Thrones fans will have a laugh at their favorite Hound (Rory McCann) in his role as what amounts to be a stunt driver who may have taken too many blows to the head; just as Vampire Diaries fans may enjoy seeing their Elena take a completely different role. She plays the adorkable, excitable, Tech Support for the group and fits right in with the crowd. Tony Jaa is…well Tony Jaa is fun mode.

I find this important to call out – there’s almost a perfect balance of male and female actors in prominent roles in this movie and those roles aren’t just eye candy (mostly). In addition the cast diversity is through the roof. So props to the casting department here.

I talked a bit about the action – which was good but should have been better. Some shots are slowed down to let you savor the moment and this is done well and done for effect on more than one case. What killed me is shots that were so painfully CGI backdrops they kicked me out of the movie. Even accounting for inflation the budget here was $15 million more than the original movie in 2002. With the exception of a few shots and props the first one holds up fifteen years later. This one won’t hold up fifteen seconds later. I get sometimes CGI is needed to make a shot work because its just that insane. No issues there with this franchise, but if you find you can’t afford a specific locale or set piece – don’t use it. Don’t use a matte back drop that isn’t clean. Not a major sin, but sin none the less; especially when there are a lot of practical effects. There are also some interesting trailer shots missing or altered, but I am getting used to that; and it is very clear there’s some additional elements added thanks to Suicide Squad’s success.

TL;DR?

This movie delivered like Domino’s. Everything that was promised in the trailer is delivered. Everything I expected of it was given. There was only a little more I wanted. Cleaner fight sequences, less painful CG when used.

I like it, I like it a lot. It’s fun and doesn’t deserve the January dump slot. It is as ridiculous as I wanted it to be and needed it to be.

Should you see it?

Do you want fun action with not a care in the world? Yes. Yes you should. I don’t know that 3D will add anything, but XD is worth it and even full price would be.

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Not even a question really. Absolutely.

Any parting thoughts?

The trailer said it: “Guns, Girls, Global Domination; Xander Cage is back….”. I am thankful for it and want to see more of this franchise.

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