xXx 3: The Return of Xander Cage – Film Review

Director: DJ Caruso

Starring: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Ruby Rose, Tony Jaa, Michael Bisping, Toni Collette, Nina Dobrev, Deepika Padukone, Samuel L Jackson and Ice Cube

Release Date: Out Now

Make no mistake, xXx3: The Return of Xander Cage is absolute, unapologetic nonsense.

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The first film in the series was made all the way back in 2002. It was a strange sort of anomaly, starring Vin Diesel as Xander Cage, an EXTREME sports loving adrenaline junkie turned super-spy.
It’s a ridiculous concept, but it was executed remarkably seriously. Next to the straight laced spy boss, the quirky fan boy gadgeteer, and the jealous by-the-book spy, Cage was out of place, unconventional. He jarred with the setting, and this juxtaposition lends xXx a strangely compelling quality.
It’s certainly not a classic of the action genre, but it is unique, distinctive and, more to the point, fun (in a try-hard, rebellious teen phase sort of way).

Flash forward and the ‘EXTREME sports’ of 2002 have more or less become just sports. Rock climbing, parachuting and so on are physical pursuits that appeal to far more people nowadays.
What was special then, maybe isn’t quite as special now. So how does xXx3 get around this?
By amping up the utter ridiculousness of the concept to 11.

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Xander Cage is not just an EXTREME sports junkie anymore. Now he’s EXTREME on a near superhuman level, with situational awareness that borders on precognition, and reflexes that match or even exceed those of trained marines.
Xander used to be one of a kind, but now he’s not the only xXx agent.

Instead, he’s leading a team as EXTREME as he is (a sniper that never misses, a driver who crashes incredibly well… and a really good DJ?) to combat a group of adversaries that is equally EXTREME. Our re- introduction to Gibbs, the head of the xXx programme from the first two xXx movies, features him trying to recruit an unimpressed Neymar, star of FC Barcelona.

It’s all completely ludicrous, and that is the strength of the film: its total self awareness.
The Return of Xander Cage would be charmless and garish, sinking under the weight of its own absurdity if it didn’t lean into it. It knows full well how preposterous it is, and it relishes it in a way that makes it endearing. It still has a ‘normal’ spy boss, but she is glib, and immediately weary of the EXTREME attitudes of Xander and his crew. Almost as though she’s clued in to the silliness of the happenings around her.
The gadget-providing genius this time around is a fan girl, attempting to gain Xander’s attention with endearingly, eye-rollingly transparent flirting.

(L-R) Ruby Rose as Adele Yusef, Nina Dobrev as Rebecca Clearidge, Tony Gonzalez as Paul Donovan, and Vin Diesel as Xander Cage in xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE by Paramount Pictures and Revolution Studios

Diesel doesn’t exactly provide an acting masterclass, but the gusto with which he throws himself into the silliness is charming. His one liners, cool-guy conversations and call backs to the previous adventures usually manage to land a smile, if not a full on guilty grin. As always he holds all of his action sequences together with the solidness we’ve come to expect.

Donnie Yen, meanwhile, does well as the sharp, capable (and EXTREME) antagonist. Admittedly, he begins fairly generic: kung fu badass who believes himself to be on the moral high ground. Half way through, though, he becomes more interesting, for reasons I won’t go into here.
He exists as a counterpart; a yin to Diesel’s yang. The two pair up well in a fun little chase sequence towards the end of the film that you may have caught glimpses of in trailers.

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As for the supporting cast, they’re universally solid. Ruby Rose exudes coolness in spite of minimal characterisation, Tony Jaa does well in his (very) occasional time in the spotlight, and Michael Bisping exceeded my EXTREMEly low expectations as the typical tough guy henchman (in a role that was originally earmarked for a certain Conor McGregor).

As the movie moves along, it get increasingly action packed. Nothing on display really sets the world on fire, but there’s a handful of fun or cool moments.
Most notably, there is a scene best described as a cross between a Mexican standoff and Russian roulette, but with live hand grenades, which folds delightfully into a chase sequence featuring motorcycles driving on water. EXTREME.

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It’s all reasonably solid, and never much more. That said, it does drag a little towards the end, as a perfectly well choreographed shootout begins to outstay its welcome. It doesn’t do a whole lot wrong, bar knowing when to end, which is made worse considering the film comes in at a trim hour and fifty one minutes.

The camerawork is fun, but forgettable. Similarly, I’m sure the music was fine, if I could remember a single example of its use. Effects are unobtrusive but unimpressive (aside from the hilarious, egregiously poor CGI satellites in the opening).

At the end of the day, the success of this film boils down to how it holds itself. Its running on adrenaline, and while it does not have enough in the tank to make it the whole way, it could have been far worse. xXx 3: The Return of Xander Cage embraces its own daftness, and if you’re able to do the same, you will have a very good time.

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Or even an EXTREMEly good time.

Score: xXx/xXxXx
Written by Will Whitty

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