As soon as the opening credits started, my wifey said to me, “Oh lord, this is going to be bad.” Then, as a satellite crashed back to earth she said: “If that thing lands on Samuel L. Jackson’s head, I’m shutting this off.” Well, the satellite didn’t exactly fall on his head, but it did kill him, along with many others in the vicinity. That’s how “xXx Return of Xander Cage” starts, and its nearly all downhill from there.
After the satellite incident, the CIA learns that this was no accident, but a strategic attack by terrorists who have acquired a device called Pandora’s Box. This thing has the ability to control military satellites so they can be used as weapons. Luckily, the CIA has the box, but it is soon stolen from the agency’s headquarters in New York by a group led by Xiang (Donnie Yen). Left with little option, government suit Jane Marke (Toni Collette) recruits the original Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) out of retirement to serve his country again.
Xander puts together a team to help him recover Pandora’s Bos, including Adele Wolff (Ruby Rose), Tennyson (Rory McCann), and Harvard “Nicks” Zhou (Kris Wu). However, things may not be entirely what they seem, and Xander and his friends quickly find themselves caught deep in a conspiracy that might run all the way to the top.
I liked the original xXX movie, not because it was a great film, but because it was a guilty pleasure spy flick with over-the-top action. Return of Xander has plenty of action, but it’s not as good as in the first movie. Several scenes rely too heavily on quick cuts and certain sequences stick out for the poor quality of the CGI.
Return of Xander Cage stole/borrowed several things from last year’s “Suicide Squad,” like giving each group member their own pop song-infused introduction complete with fun little graphics with info about the characters. There’s also the tough lady in charge; a sharpshooter; the crazy onee; and a martial artist.
The cast is likeable, especially Donnie Yen who steals the show in many places. But at the end of the day, the cast comes off looking like the minor league team to the pro team that Vin Diesel runs in the Fast & The Furious movies. But let me be clear: I don’t blame the cast.
The script by F. Scott Frazier doesn’t do the cast any favors. The stakes don’t feel real or big enough, and Frazier’s primary concern seems to be putting Xander Cage in cool looking situations and locales, while reminding the audience why they liked the first movie.
It wasn’t all bad though, as “xXx Return of Xander Cage” did have a couple of good elements. I like the idea that there are all kinds of xXx agents out there with different skills. This is something that should be explored even more if there is another sequel. And since Donnie Yen was arguably the bast part of this movie, give him a spinoff.
Another thing I liked where the female characters. Ruby Rose was terrific as the team sniper, and had some great one liners with Vin Diesel. Deepika Padukone was good too, and did well in the action scenes. But she does look very young next to diesel. And finally, I liked Nina Dobrev at first because she spoke her mind and had some funny dialogue with Vin Diesel. But by the end of the movie they turned her character into slapstick.
In the end, “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” is exactly what you’d expect: It’s over-the-top, ridiculous, and silly. Unfortunately, thanks to the weak script and awful CGI, , it’s not as enjoyable as the original. And it’s certainly not even close to the Fast & Furious franchise.
“xXx: Return of Xander Cage” final score: D+