RECAP: xXx: Return of Xander Cage

xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017): D.J. Caruso

Sing it with me: What the world needs now/is love, sweet–XANDER CAGE MOTORCYCLE SKI SURFING.

What happens when an actor gets a little bored of his multi-billion-dollar action franchise? He works in his multi-million-dollar action franchise.

Look out, Earth, Xander Cage is back, and he’s EXTREMELY EXTREMER THAN EVER.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: XANDER CAGE SKIS JUNGLES; XANDER CAGE SLEEPS WITH HOT WOMEN; XANDER CAGE PLAYS GRENADE ROULETTE; XANDER CAGE SAVES EARTH.

Hero (3/10)

In the beginning, there was Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), a scarred man with a plan and a job inside the American intelligence community. He would gather the world’s most extreme people to fight crime and terrorism using street tactics. No suits or martinis for his crew, instead, tattoos and Red Bull.

Now it’s 2017, and Gibbons is still at it, this time recruiting Neymar, the third most famous soccer player on Earth, to be a spy. Also, high above Washington, D.C., a rogue satellite is reentering Earth’s atmosphere and burning up. Pretty soon, it crashes and incinerates Gibbons.

***

Who’s on whose side changes often in xXx: Return of Xander Cage, but its hero never changes. The legendary Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), out of the game for 15 years, returns to fight the bad people of the world because someone killed his friend and recruiter, Augustus Gibbons, founder of the Triple X program.

Xander’s first appearance shows him free climbing a communications tower atop a mountain in Brazil to steal a metal box. Guards on the ground have guns and want him to come down. Xander complies, by attaching his feet to skis. He leaps from the tower, falling past the guards (to whom he gives the finger), and hitting the jungled mountainside.

Xander about to drop onto a huge mountain.
Xander about to drop onto a huge mountain.

Xander skis down the mountain, dodging and kicking off trees. He stops skiing by the mountain road, where he borrows a skateboard to board down the winding, trafficked road. Xander’s speed surpasses the motorized vehicles. He high-fives an oncoming driver and does not fall off the board.

All the way down the mountain Xander is cheered by the locals. He grabs a truck to help dodge a larger, oncoming truck. At the bottom of the mountain, Xander sprints to a salt mine. He’s got a few seconds to attach the box before Defcon One.

As the seconds on his timer tick to zero, Xander connects the box, and dozens of TVs click on across the region just as Brazil and Germany kick off in (most likely) the semifinal of the 2014 World Cup, the most recent meeting between the two teams.

Everyone is happy, and thanks to Xander. How will they feel in two hours, after Germany finishes its 7-1 dismantling of Verde-Amarela. Will they blame Xander for this? Perhaps they did, and that’s why Xander chose to rejoin Triple X.

All you need to know about Xander can be learned in this sequence. The man defies death each day, is extreme, and does it for the people. He doesn’t need to open his mouth. But when he does, you get truth bombs and extreme lines.

Xander explains why he went to so much trouble just to watch a soccer match without buying a satellite package. “And line the pockets of some boardroom billionaires?” he asks. Touché. Also, he did it for the children, one of whom says, “You brought the world to us.” Aww. Xander spends that night having sex with the sexiest woman in rural Brazil.

Xander lives for this shit. Everything is extreme, and extremely to the max, and maximally extreme. Here’s a guy who uses pieces of wood as note paper. He uses permanent ink to draw on monitors. When Xander meets a captain he dislikes, an American soldier, no less, he throws him out of an airplane.skateboarding

And everything with a smile. Some of “the things I do for my country” include: having sex with six women in one night, wearing a fur coat the size of Brazil, snapping a gun in half over his leg, refusing to drink while on the job, calculating drop velocities from a moving aircraft, jumping from an overpass onto an 18-wheeler, and letting the space between his ring and index fingers be used as a sniper’s target.

The xXx franchise knows what it is, and Return of Xander Cage hits its marks. Xander cracks wise as often as he cracks heads. Before Xander accepts his assignment (and do you care what it is?), he tells a CIA leader, “There are no more patriots, just rebels and tyrants.” She asks, “So which are you?” Xander says, “I’m Triple X.”

Villain (2/10)

Keeping track of the good guys and bad guys is a bit tough. Sides are switched often. The true villain shows herself in the end.

All the characters are tracking Pandora’s Box, a device capable of overriding satellite failsafes to make them crash. With the Box, any of the tens of thousands of satellites orbiting Earth can becomes a bomb. It’s a powerful weapon, which the CIA loses shortly after the death Gibbons.

CIA suit Jane Marke (Toni Collette) spends much of the film trying to recapture Pandora’s Box. She recruits Xander to go after Gibbons’s killer and equips him and his team for the job.

With a constant detached frown, Marke guides Xander as much as anyone can guide Xander to retrieve the real Pandora’s Box device from another CIA chief.

Seemed like Toni Collette was disinterested in most scenes.
Seemed like Toni Collette was disinterested in most scenes.

When Xander captures the device, Marke stomps in to collect it and use it for herself. Her first mission, use a satellite to kill Xander Cage and all Triple X operatives.

A few times in the movie Marke pretends to speak with the president on the phone. She says the president ordered all Triple X agents terminated. We never hear a voice on the other end of the line, so perhaps she made all that up. She’s a wily one, that Marke.

Except when she’s not. Her dumbest mistake turns out to be her last. Ordered to kill Xander and his friends, she shoots Xander three times, in the chest. No head shot. So dumb. Of course he’s wearing protection and returns to save the day.

Action/Effects (2/10)

Too many terrific stunts are obviously CGI. For example, Tony Jaa runs toward a speeding motorbike, leaps at its driver, kicks the driver in the chest, and lands on the seat while it still moves. Hilarious move, definitely faked. That’s too bad, because the xXx franchise should display the best stunts in the world.

Oh right, this is about action and effects. The movie’s best scene occurs after Xiang (Donnie Yen) crashes through three inches of security glass. Xiang hits the floor and immediately attacks. The room is wide open, save for the giant table in the center, where Xiang quickly makes his moves.

First things first, Xiang grabs Pandora’s Box from Marke. Sitting on the table, he slides into view and shrugs his shoulders in a “Expecting someone else?” gesture. The first suit to draw his gun has it stolen from him. Xiang shoots a suit and kicks another suit at the same time, then kicks a third out of his chair.

Xiang shoots guards and suits as the protective barriers drop. Out of ammo, Xiang draws out the next weapon–his leather coat. The coat serves little purpose but to make Donnie Yen look cool. Mission accomplished. More guys get kicked and shot. Marke hides from the attacks. Wise move.

Xiang slides across the table on his coat about 10 yards in an impossible move. No leather is that slick. He slides again on the floor to escape the control room, as if the CIA is coated in grease.

Soon, Xiang, Serena, Hawk, and Talon are outside. Tony Jaa does that insane motorcycle stunt after dodging a clip load of pistol shots. Over the top, ambitious, and ridiculous, the action scenes of xXx: Return of Xander Cage are just like the movie.

Later, in the Philippines, Xander uses a motorbike to beat up some hired guns who crash a baller party. Xander wants to save his life and retrieve Pandora’s Box, but I suspect they angered him for breaking up that dope party. The Hood was on the tables!

Underwater basket weaving? Nah. Underwater motorcycling.
Underwater basket weaving? Nah. Underwater motorcycling.

Xander uses the bike to punch guys in the face in obvious fake imagery. I don’t know how you pull off such a stunt in real life, but I didn’t like its fakes easily spotted. Also during that fight, Xander uses the bike to drive over Serena’s legs without snapping them. That’s some magic.

Most of the movie’s action sequences are chases. That’s fine, because in Yen and Jaa this film has two of the world’s most recognizable stunt actors. Unleash their skills!

The movie’s most explosive moment was also its funniest, and that came at the team’s lowest moment.

Sidekicks (1/8)

Make gives Xander a team of punk-ass military dudes, led by Capt. Donovan. Xander smirks at them, cracks wise, and throws them off the plane. If he’s going to chase the world’s most extreme team of badassery, he’ll need people he can trust.

Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose): Sniper supreme, Wolff gets a call from Xander while in Africa. She lines up her sniper rifle with a lion in her scope. Ah, it’s a trick. She’s there to shoot the three bow hunters chasing the languid lion. That’s how we know she’s on the side of good.

Wolff
Wolff

Wolff is the best sniper in history, a woman who will cut a sail to assemble a wrap that lets her use a palm tree as an impromptu sniper platform. She can shoot through a space a half inch wide from three hundred yards. Is that humanly possible?

The Hood: aka Nicks, this guy is the world’s most famous DJ no one recognizes. Here’s a guy who has “dated” Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga in the same night, yet when he arrives at a dance party he has to sneak by security to get to the turntables. The Hood slays with fierce jams and with headphones cords.

World famous DJ who sneaks into parties.
World famous DJ who sneaks into parties.

Tennyson Torch: Stunt driver with 198, 199, 200 successful crashes, Torch is a guy who will drive a stolen car through an ATM just for fun. He flips vans like snapping fingers.

Nice to see Rory McCann without horrifying facial scarring.
Nice to see Rory McCann without horrific facial scars.

What band of misfits and adrenaline junkies would better fill a team lead by Xander Cage?

Henchmen (6/8)

Those who steal Pandora’s Box turn out to be other Triple X members. Xiang, Serena, Talon, and Hawk infiltrate CIA headquarters in New York to steal the device. They do so without any advanced equipment, just a lot of gumption and flexibility.

These people are bad guys at the beginning, but they're just misunderstood.
These people are bad guys at the beginning, but they’re just misunderstood. L to R: Tony Jaa as Talon, Donnie Yen as Xiang, Michael Bisping as Hawk, and Deepika Padukone as Serena Unger.

Each member shows off terrific fighting skills and zero fear. They steal the device and take it to the Philippines, where things get interesting.

Serena (Deepika Padukone) agreed to steal the device to destroy it. Xiang double crosses her, keeping it alive and in a safe place. He wants to trade it to help achieve certain goals that are never spelled out.

As Xiang says to Xander in the Philippines hideout, “We are all Triple X. We just have different agendas.” Though he might lack in shirt styling skills, Xiang makes up for it in fighting. He will annihilate a squad of America’s finest military fighters with only his fists, even in zero gravity.

Serena, his partner, has a different agenda. She doesn’t believe in good guys as much as she believes that Pandora’s Box is too powerful to exist. When Xander holds the device on a beach, Serena wastes no time shooting it to smithereens.

Gibbons recruited Serena to Triple X after she was arrested for climbing London’s Eye naked. She and Xander trade tattoo stories, she explaining that the phoenix on her torso came on the day she decided to start changing the world rather than raging against it.

Stunts (6/6)

As stated earlier, xXx knows what it is, and in Return it doubles down. The producers hired two of the world’s most famous stunt actors and cast them in speaking roles. How about that?

Yen and Jaa have had long careers fighting, jumping, running, and sliding, and they do that here. Jaa is a guy who can flip onto a bannister from a catwalk. In Detroit, chasing Serena, he slides under an open car door. Not an F-150 door, but an Escort door.

Yen has plenty of skills as well. He displays them on board the military plane, fighting off a dozen trained fighters with nothing but his hands.

Spectacular stunts, real and likely CGI, fill the movie. In the opening attack on CIA headquarters in New York, Xiang, Serena, Talon, and Hawk infiltrate the secure building.

Xiang leaps 70 feet from one building roof onto and through three inches of glass. He takes out the entire room of guards and CIA suits with a few shots and a lot of kicks. Using his leather jacket, Xiang slides across the table and whips his body around like a break dancer to kick at others.

Down on street level, Talon runs toward a charging motorbike. Timing his leap perfectly, Talon jumps into the driver, knocking him off, and landing on the seat of the still-moving motorbike. An incredible stunt that I don’t believe happened, but looked cool and ridiculous simultaneously.

In Detroit, Xander and Xiang fight on the city’s busy streets. First, they blindly leap from an overpass and luckily land on the tops of 18-wheelers they had no idea would be there. They fight a little on one truck until they fall off and slam onto the roof of an SUV.

Now on ground level, they run against and amongst zooming traffic. They trade blows while dodging the cars, until both are hit by cars. Smiling, they get up and fight more. Another car flips over the pair lying prone on the asphalt.

Xander gathered an actual stunt driver on his team, so you know some crazy driving stunts are coming. Tennyson Torch starts the movie with 198 official crashes. In the Philippines he crashes a boat to help a friend, so when he lines up a driver in Detroit, he’s gunning for number 200.

Torch, driving a dodgy yellow van, chases an SUV. Torch spots a ramp to the left, and wouldn’t you know, it’s angled perfectly for Torch’s next trick. Torch hits the ramp, flipping the van but also tipping the SUV, knocking both vehicles on their sides. Torch, safe from the flip, gets out and snaps a celebratory selfie.

Nearly every scene has a stunt in the classic sense, or a stunt in the ridiculous sense. Turn on xXx movies for these insane ideas and enjoy them for what they are.

Climax (3/6)

Xander’s team and the other Triple X agents have to split up. Xiang and Xander are arrested by Marke and taken to her plane, where she receives a call from the president ordering her to kill all Triple X agents. It’s a damn shame, given all the things they’ve done for their country.

Marke shoots Xander three times in the chest, because she doesn’t understand how head shots work. Xiang is strapped to the plane’s wall. They take off. Marke has Pandora’s Box and will use it to crash a satellite onto the other members of Triple X, including Becky, who works for the CIA. Collateral damage is not a problem for Marke.

In case the satellite thing doesn’t work, Marke sends a squad of killers to eliminate Xander’s people. They grab their gear and high tail it to an abandoned warehouse, of which Detroit probably has many.

Serena dials 9 on the phone Xander gave her, in case of emergency. “Some guys are outside with guns” qualifies as said emergency. Up in the plane, Xander plays dead for a while, waking up beside Xiang long enough to tell him, “What a rush.”

The movie cuts between the two settings. Xander and Xiang eradicate a seemingly endless supply of blue-clad Marines or whatever they were. Donovan, of all people, the man Xander threw from the plane earlier, gets to wear the pneumatic fists we were all waiting for.

Xander is too smart to engage these weapons that have four times the power of normal fists. The monitors all over the plane are not smart enough. They are smashed. Throughout all this, both pilots are shot and the plane nose dives toward Michigan.

While the plane is falling, no one tries to right it. Instead they fight in a zero gravity environment. That’s insane! If Xander lives, he might not kill someone for piloting the plane. If the plane crashes, everyone dies. SMDH.

Xiang takes care of most of the guards in the cargo hold. One tries to shoot him. Xiang, grabs the barrel and turns it toward another guard as the gun holder pulls the trigger.

When the plane goes nose down, Xiang gets creative, he beats a up a guy and uses that body as a battering ram to hit two other guys.

Xander has a few tricks up his sleeves. He finds an oxygen canister and attaches it to a guard to get him off his back. Xiang uses handguns as propellant devices.

On the ground, the team is pinned down by more guys with more powerful guns. Torch gets shot twice for trying to grab a bag of stuff. Talon uses a live wire to electrocute two guys standing in a puddle. Becky, trying to hook up her field dampening device to block Pandora’s Box, guns down two goons using the age-old drop-the-gun trick and have it shoot all the bad guys. Jaime Lee Curtis perfected this move in True Lies.

Serena and Wolff have cool scenes. They stand in the open, backs to each other, each shooting two guns. On the soundtrack a lion roars so you get the idea that they’re fierce.back to back guns

Suddenly an armored personnel carrier burst through the brick wall. the good guys are out of bullets, down to two knives. They hide behind pillars under heavy fire.

Serena looks at her brethren and sistren. They are ready to charge the baddies with nothing but blades. She orders them to go on the count of three. She shows fingers. One. Two.

At Three, the ground explodes. A truck explodes. Enormous explosions erupt across the warehouse. Standing like the god of fire is Triple X agent Stone (Ice Cube), a man who’s waited 11 years for someone to do what Serena did, dial 9.

Luckily, Stone lives in the Detroit area. After killing all the bad guys, he greets his new friends. “Rock, paper, scissors, grenade launcher,” he says. An Ice Cube song plays that literally says “Thank God the gangster’s back.” Stone tells them, “X takes care of its own.”

Xander and Xiang are still fighting guys on the plane. How many they got? Oh, never mind, they just ran out. Xiang tricks Marke and wraps a parachute around her leg, sending her falling from the plane at low speed.

The satellite enters the atmosphere. There’s no time to fix the problem except the kamikaze way. Xander tells The Hood to get the camera ready.

Xander points the plane at the satellite. In his Rhett Butler moment, he casually throws out, “I live for this shit.” Xander leaps to the back of the plane as it explodes and falls out without protection.

Hey, a crate of gear is falling nearby, and it already has a helpful parachute attached. Xander zooms toward it, grapples a hold, and pulls the chute.

Hanging on for dear life.
Hanging on for dear life.

Seconds later the crate is collapsing in dust on the ground. Xander walks away and, before savoring his survival, ensures the The Hood caught that on video. He did.

And what happened to Marke? “The ground broke her fall.”

Jokes (1/4)

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a joke. The hard part is knowing whether or not the movie is in on the joke. Flip this movie on and turn off your brain, because most things won’t make sense.

They don’t have to make sense. Xander Cage’s job is to make you stand up and shout “Hell yeah,” or slap your knee laughing, and you’ll do both.

Earlier I mentioned that Xander has sex with six women in one night. The next morning he surveys the damage. All the women are resplendently asleep in flawless lingerie. Plates of strawberries and flutes of champagne are strewn amongst them. Do they know Vin Diesel is 50 years old?

This is foreplay in the xXx world.
This is foreplay in the xXx world.

Other displays of bravado are hilarious. Xiang, Serena, and Xander play a game of Hot Potato, where they toss live grenades around a table. CIA nerd Becky meets Xander for the first time and tells him her safe word. Xander throws his hated army rival Donovan through a hole in a plane and tells him he will flush twice. Cuz he’s a big turd. Get it?

In the Philippines, Xander negotiates entry to Xiang and Serena’s lair. He and some goon must agree on a percentage of profits involving guns. I admit that I did not follow their discussion. Never mind, Xander does the thinking for me.

Xander tells this goon that he will give him 22 and a half percent. The goon asks how he will get the half. Xander takes a rifle from a case and breaks it in half. There’s your half. All of this confused me because I don’t think they understand how percentages work. I still laughed, as was the goal.

Motorcycle ski surfing happened. Never forget.

Setting (3/4)

Any spy movie worth its salt must send characters to exotic locales. xXx takes its gorgeous locations and grimes them up. Xander travels to a secluded tropical island in the Philippines and finds a huge party location.

Stone temples are surrounded by dirty floors and bamboo bars. Lighting for this party is provided by fires in steel barrels. When there’s no electric grid, burn some shit. Xiang, Serena, and Xander drink on a wooden sign that functions as a table.

All the characters also go to Detroit. Detroit’s dirty, but I doubt it was ever much of a glamorous city. Graffiti everywhere, gray skies, empty warehouses, gridlocked streets. OK, Detroit sucks (in this movie). Still, there’s beauty to be found. The CIA guy holding Pandora’s Box sets up on the top floor of a tower, in a room that appeared to be a beautiful theater, complete with a (now broken) grand piano.

The characters of xXx exist on the streets, and they seem to carry that grit and grime to wherever they go.

The coolest setting is Marke’s transport plane. As Xander first steps on, he asks about all the superfluous onboard gear. “We don’t need any of it,” Marke says. This repurposed cargo plane has all the cool gear for the obligatory gear-up parts and plenty of monitors to smash in the climax fight.

Commentary (0/2)

“There are no more patriots.” Marke says to Xander. Just two people talking about the world. Xander says that there are only rebels and tyrants. Those tyrants can be anywhere, even in the United States government.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Xander is ready to to stick his wick in a any gap he can find, and the ladies are eager to let him. The titillation induces eye rolls and a smile for its bombast. However, Return of Xander Cage has women kicking as much ass as its hero.

Others

  • Why isn’t anyone talking about CIA headquarters being in New York? Did I miss the news for, like 30 years? When did this happen?
  • Also, as ridiculous as this franchise is, I can buy a lot. I can’t buy a CIA planning room that’s surrounded by a huge window. Let’s discuss our planet’s biggest secrets, but not too close to that window. People might see. New York is a small town, I know, but let’s not take chances.
  • The CIA is in New York? Did I miss something?
  • (-1) Gratuitous pandering to Brazil with casting Neymar

Summary (26/68): 38%

Xander Cage returns, 15 years after he first declared, “I live for this shit.” nothing about him has changed. Same lines, same beats, same bear-sized fur coat.

The movie forces Xander to team up with other Triple X people (“agents” seems a stretch). Padukone, Rose, Yen, and Jaa earn their screen time, and the diversity of this cast helped Return of Xander Cage earn more money outside the US than all three xXx movies combined made in the US.