xXx: Return of Xander Cage review – extremely lackluster sequel

As far as sequels go, xXx: Return of Xander Cage should have been a layup. Just follow the format of the 2002 original that tossed the extreme is awesome attitude into the stale spy movie formula. Initially, the film plays like a welcome return to form with a ridiculous for the sake of ridiculous opening act.

Xander Cage (Vin Diesel, Furious 7) base jumps off a cliff and skateboards along a crowded, windy road for a winking payoff. Oh it’s absurd, but it’s gloriously absurd. Shame that’s the only scene that truly captures the spirit and craziness of the original.

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The rest of the film plays out like a bootlegged version of Fast & the Furious in xXx’s clothing. Instead of ridiculous, extreme stunts in a spy setting, Return is simply following in the carnage left behind by the Furious crew. And Diesel’s new crew isn’t half as enjoyable as Paul Walker, Tyrese, Michelle Rodriguez and Dwayne Johnson. But at least it’s got Donnie Yen.

When an old friend gets killed, Xander gets recruited back to action by government agent Marke (a scene-chewing Toni Collette). A four-person unit — Xiang (Yen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Serena (Deepika Padukone), Talon (Tony Jaa, Furious 7) and Hawk (Michael Bisping) — daringly broke into a secure government facility and made off with a device that can crash land satellites anywhere in the world. This foursome isn’t half as villainy cool as Anarchy 99, the bad guys of the first film.

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Screenwriter F. Scott Frazier (Collide) is clearly trying to capture the Furious vibe with a little franchise building. While proving fully competent on his own last time, Xander decides he needs some help this installment.

His crew, wheelman Tennyson (Rory McCann, Game of Thrones), sniper Adele (Ruby Rose) and party man Nicks (Kris Wu), don’t offer much beyond stuffing the film with too many characters. Rose has a tremendous action movie presence, but her role is painfully underwritten as lesbian sniper with an attitude. Nina Dobrev goes against type playing the geeky tech support.

On the plus side, Return did adhere to an important lesson from the Furious franchise and feature a welcomingly diverse cast.

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One of the film’s big problems quickly surfaces when Xander and his crew meet Xiang. Donnie Yen is just a lot cooler than anyone else on screen. Diesel makes Xander more playful and gets off some funny lines, but Yen totally steals the show. And there’s just the overall sense that Xiang’s crew just isn’t trying as hard to be cool. It just comes naturally.

Director D.J. Caruso favors more spectacle style action so there’s less innovative sequences and more traditional blow stuff up scenes. Creatively incorporating extreme sports into the stock action format was one of the most charming and endearing aspects of the first film. Making Return just another action film doesn’t fly in an era where the Furious franchise firmly has the insane, action extravaganza game on lock.

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And it was a very poor decision to spoil another franchise player’s cameo in the trailer. That was a great payoff scene that should have been saved for those who watched the movie. Not that I’d recommend that plan at all.  I’ll just dust off the first film and start my countdown for Fate of the Furious.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures


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