xXx: The Return of Xander Cage – ‘90s Action Today!

Xander Cage rises from the dead after fifteen years to save the world again in the sequel no one in particular asked for – so the surprise is that it’s good-natured ‘90s fun with today’s technology.

xXx3 opens with Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) pitching the Triple X program to football (soccer to you) star Neymar Jr (himself) – just before a satellite crashes and they are seemingly consumed by flames.

Cut to Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) on a mission in the Dominican Republic – there’s a timer! It’s a sequence with such delightful things as parkour on skies (snow skis) in a jungle; hitching a ride while skateboarding and some other extreme sports/physical stuff that will make you sit up and go, ‘Whoa!’ – and a payoff that is pretty delightful.

He’s brought back in from the cold, as it were, by chilly CIA operative Jane Marke (Toni Colette), to find and recover the device that was sued to bring down the satellite – something called Pandora’s Box.

As seen in the trailers for the film, Xander doesn’t take kindly to the four soldiers Marke wants him to use as a team, and expedites their removal and replacement by a quartet of extreme talents: sniper/weapons expert Adele (Ruby Rose, Orange is the New Black); kamikaze stunt driver Tennyson (Rory McCann, Game of Thrones); Nicks (Kris Wu), planner and DJ, and the nerdy, bespectacled Becky (Nina Dobrev, The Vampire Diaries), computer genius).

Twist: Xander’s team of badasses discovers they’re in competition for the device with another quartet of extreme talents: martial arts expert Xiang (Donnie Yen, Rogue One); sexy and dangerous Serena Unger (Deepika Padukone, a Bollywood star who steals every scene she’s in); ex-British Special Forces guy, Hawk (Michael Bisping, UFA/MMA fighter) and Talon (Tony Jaa, Ong-Bak).

Twist: the two teams have an unexpected connection.

Of course, nothing is as it seems – there crosses and doublecrosses – and motivations range from basic to sketchy.

There are lovely supporting performances by a host of character actors – including Nigel Bennett (Forever Knight) as MI6 Control and Al Sapienza (Game of Silence, Person of Interest) as the CIA director. These small roles help set the stage and provide context for the big booms, gunfights and extreme sports set pieces.

There’s nothing in xXx: The Return of Xander Cage that could be considered even remotely original, but it’s a fast-paced romp that puts a physically talented cast through some fun paces – while once asking the question, ‘why hasn’t Donnie Yen been given his own action franchise in North America?’

I saw xXx: The Return of Xander Cage in IMAX 3D and I have to say that it looked pretty good. Given that it probably cost a quarter of what a Fast & Furious entry would, it’s pretty well packed with great stunts and better than decent CGI.

Writer F. Scott Frazier and director D.J. Caruso have produced a fun movie that is way better than I was expecting for January.

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Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures