Cinema Dispatch: xXx: Return of Xander Cage

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xXx: Return of Xander Cage and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures

Directed by DJ Caruso

I know I’ve SEEN the first xXx movie, but the only things I can recall are a fake diner, non-lethal bullets with fake blood in them, and a bunch of scientist being killed by the bad guys because reasons.  Needless to say that it didn’t leave much of an impression on me considering how poorly I can recall it as well as the fact that I never felt the need to go back and rewatch it.  Still, what with The Fast and the Furious becoming the most popular international franchise outside of Marvel, they obviously had to milk this franchise again; something that didn’t seem to go well the last time they did it with Ice Cube, but I guess now that XANDER CAGE is back, we can take one more swing at it!  Does the return of Vin Diesel breathe new life into a franchise that’s been comatose for over a decade, or is this just one big Weekend at Bernie’s scheme gone even worse than any of us could imagine?  Let’s find out!!

The movie opens up with NSA Agent Augustus Eugene Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson), who I guess was in the first movie, trying to recruit some football player (as in Soccer) to be a member of xXx, though I’m not sure if that’s a title, the name of the organization, or both.  It doesn’t really matter though because both he and the football player (Neymar) are killed by a satellite that drops out of the sky.  Normally these burn up on reentry LONG before they could really cause THAT kind of damage on the ground, but this is no the movie to be asking those kinds of questions in.  The more important question is… WHO’S RESPONSIBLE!?  Well, government operative Jane Marke (Toni Collette) seems to have an idea of HOW if not exactly WHO as the government JUST SO HAPPENS to have some sort of box that serves NO OTHER PURPOSE than to drop satellites from the sky.  Okay… well the box is stolen by a bunch of badasses (Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Tony Jaa, and Michael Bisping) which means the government has to find an EQUALLY badass person to hunt them down; namely Xander Cage (Vin Diesel).  It doesn’t take long for Jane to recruit him for the mission, and he brings along a crew of people with a certain set of skills to help him out.  Adele the sniper (Ruby Rose), Tennyson the stunt driver (Rory McCann),a nd of course Nicks the DJ (Kris Wu) because apparently you need one of those for this kind of mission.  Can this rag tag crew of Gatorade chugging XTREME athletes save the world before the OTHER Gatorade chugging XTREME athletes destroy it?  What was the government planning to do with that ridiculously specific doomsday device anyway?  Most importantly, does Vin Diesel look cool in this?

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“Would you fuck me?  I’d fuck me.”

I liked this movie, then I didn’t like this movie, and then I sort of like this movie.  It’s a real shame how much the second act in this really brings the whole movie down to a point that it can’t really recover from.  It’s like they had an ENTIRELY different team working on that movie; not just in terms of a Second unit filming it, but a whole new writer, a less competent editor, and ESPECIALLY a much sleazier director making sure that this part of the movie is as Male Gaze-y as possible.  Now to be fair, the movie isn’t perfect even outside of the lousy second act, as some of those problems (particularly the lasciviousness) are present throughout, and it’s becoming even more clear that Vin Diesel is only interested in making movies that stroke his own ego; even if doing so takes away from the overall package.  It feels like the film is full of those kind of compromises where it can only go so far in one direction before rushing back to meet back into a mediocre middle ground that’s not nearly as satisfying as where things were headed.  Maybe some of this can be fixed in future installments if this turns into an ACTUAL franchise, but it isn’t quite the homecoming that they were hoping for.

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Hell, if I had the choice between watching this movie again or ACTUALLY having a gun at my balls… well I’d probably just watch the scene again, but I certainly wouldn’t like it!

Let’s start with what works which is, conveniently, the first part of the movie.  Right away, the movie’s tone is one of light-hearted fun with only a smidgen of brotastic smugness.  Not enough to even register all that much when everything else is firing on all cylinders.  Samuel L Jackson (who I don’t even remember from the first one) has a fun scene, the action set piece where our villains prove how badass they are is effective and well shot, and Xander Cage’s introduction is so unrelentingly cheesy that it goes all the way around from hokey to straight up awesome.  The dude is barreling down a mountain side on skis and a skateboard, and all the while he’s being chased by the village children who shower him with adulation as he’s speeding towards his goal.  It’s unbelievable how much the movie is in love with Vin Diesel and at first it’s actually quite endearing to watch the filmmakers do everything in their power to make you like this guy; from his cheesy FUCK THE MAN mentality, to the way that everyone around him tells him how awesome he is in a way that seems to let the audience know that THEY’RE aware of silly this all is.  The only problems I really have with the first act is that most of what they set up, particularly with the characters they introduce and the initial tone set, don’t pay off by the end of the movie.  You could argue that that isn’t even a flaw with that part of the movie as the problems come in later, but a movie is a team effort between all three of its acts and it’s not like they didn’t have the WHOLE script in front of them while they were shooting.  If there wasn’t enough time or skill from the filmmakers to make everything work, they should have trimmed it down a bit early on so that those unresolved elements aren’t hanging on the rest of the film like dead weight.

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Oh, we’ll get to THESE assholes soon enough!

Once the ball gets rolling on the story is when things begin to fall apart.  First of all, there are too many characters in this and a lot of them are completely useless.  Xander has these three bad asses that he recruits to the cause like he’s Stallone in the X-Games sponsored version of The Expendables, and only ONE of them contribute anything of worth.  Ruby Rose (who I will use female pronouns for, though correct me if they prefer to use different ones)  is a shining example of pretty much everything this movie gets right and is also indicative of its flaws; mainly that she perfectly encapsulates the over the top and machismo infused excess of certain action films while also bringing a sense of inclusivity to the whole affair, and yet is also not used as much as she should be and never gets to go past a certain point in terms of being an aberration from the straight male mentality that goes along with these kind of movies.  Oh sure, she gets to hit on one of the women in here (who doesn’t reciprocate), but while Vin Diesel is laying pipe and soaking panties all throughout, she barely gets a chance to shift the films gaze away from that which she COULD have done very easily if SOMEONE wasn’t such a screen hog.  Again, it goes back to Vin Diesel HAVING to be the most important thing at all times, and while I love the guy and what he represents, he’s actively limiting what could have been a great movie with an eye for diversity and inclusion to instead be HIS movie with HIS point of view and a rainbow coalition of sidekicks in the background.  Of course, Ruby Rose DOES have to share screen time with Rory McCann and Kris Wu who add nothing to the movie which makes them almost as bad as the screen hog who at least is keeping the damn thing moving.  Can someone PLEASE explain to me why they bothered bringing a DJ to a mission like this!?  I understand these movies are goofy already with the main heroes being a bunch of stunt men, but at least the movie bothers to give them stuff to do.  I can’t think of a single thing that Kris Wu adds here aside from being an extra body on hand in case they need someone to shoot a gun, albeit with much less skill than anyone else here.  That’s not even going into the pointless nerdy girl who gets weak kneed in front of Vin (her SCIENCE skills are weak), the squad of marines who are portrayed as bumbling fools which seems like an… odd choice, and two of Donnie Yen’s henchmen; one of whom is played by Tony Jaa and is COMPLETELY wasted!  How do you waste THAT guy!?

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And what the FUCK did they do to his hair!?

On top of the unspectacular side characters in here, the second act also manages to have bad action and falls into several pitfalls that the first two action scenes managed to avoid.  It’s another movie that manages to have the CLOSE UPS!  QUICK CUTS!  SHAKY CAM! problem, but it’s only prominent in the one big action scene right in the middle of the film that isn’t helped by the scene being filled with lots of people (mostly women in bikinis naturally) which makes it even harder to get a sense of geography or flow when coupled with the bad editing.  Hell, even the story falls apart in this part of the movie as the big action scene is kicked off by a bunch of bad guys that come out of nowhere and that I can’t even identify.  Were they Russian operatives?  If so, how the hell did they find the place that Xander and the bad guys happened to be at?  It feels really contrived in a movie that was already starting to lose me, and since we were never introduced to these new antagonists before that very moment, they’re relative threat was non-existent considering what we’ve seen everyone else do in the movie up to that point.  The middle of this movie is just an absolute mess as the elements that started out good start to unravel and stop working together with a sense of purpose; rather it’s just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.

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So… how does that work again?

Fortunately the movie manages to regain that focus once we head into the third act which makes things feel more cohesive, but it still never manages to recapture the giddy charm that we were promised in the beginning as the action becomes much more standard, the locations get less exotic, and the plot twists make the movie less interesting.  I won’t spoil it, but the villainous turn towards the end is not earned in the slightest and feels like they just needed to tack on another twenty minutes to the film.  It’s a SOLID twenty minutes filled with action and at least one REALLY unexpected moment (not gonna spoil that either!), but the way we ended up getting there is incredibly unsatisfying.

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If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

xXx: Return of Xander Cage (3D+Blu-ray+Digital HD)

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One thought on “Cinema Dispatch: xXx: Return of Xander Cage

  1. Pingback: Cinema Dispatch: The Great Wall | The Reviewers Unite!

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