Blu-ray Review: xXx: Return of Xander Cage



Let me start out this review with a warning: if you’re lactose intolerant, you may want to avoid this movie, as xXx: Return of Xander Cage is full of so much cheese that you may go into anaphylactic shock. Okay, now that the warning is out of the way, let me follow it up by saying you may still want to take the risk because Return of Xander Cage is also a fantastically entertaining action flick, and a helluva way to kick off the summer blockbuster season in your own living room.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is exactly that: the return of Vin Diesel to his first leading action hero role after the success of The Fast and the Furious back in 2001. In 2002, Vin stepped into the shoes of Xander Cage, and the box-office returns flowed in. Fast-forward to 2005, and Diesel decided to step away from the sequel, and the potential of creating a franchise due to not liking the script or direction the sequel was headed. That turned out to be a smart move, as xXx: State of the Union starring Ice Cube flopped worldwide, and the sequel train came to an abrupt halt.

But it’s known that when Diesel has an affinity for a character he’s played, he’ll put all his box-office might behind it in an attempt to get a sequel made. He’s done it twice before with his Riddick franchise, and now he’s doing it one more time with Xander Cage. In a smart move, they’ve made it so you really don’t have to have seen the original film to catch on to what’s going on this time out. I mean, it’s not like an Extreme Sports daredevil turned secret agent is an overly complex foundation to latch onto, but a fresh introduction into the series is all handled quite nicely in the opening act, with some throwbacks to fans of the original at the same time.

As mentioned before, right out of the gate the dialogue being shot back and forth between Xander and newcomers to the franchise is hilariously cheesy. It’s meant to be that way, and comes off like it’s meant to be taken that way, so it actually works. It sets the vibe early on that this movie is going to be loud, funny, action-packed with over-the-top fights and lots of explosions, sometimes silly, but always with the end goal to simply be entertaining from start to finish – and it succeeds on all those fronts.

The film is carried on the shoulders of Vin Diesel, and the cool confidence he brings to the Xander character. Some of the lines that he says are so ridiculous and often set up so perfectly by those around him that if it was someone other than Diesel delivering these lines, most would probably turn the movie off 20 minutes in. Luckily, Diesel is the one doing the talking, and we get to sit back and enjoy the fun Xander is having right alongside him.

Speaking of alongside him, Xander also has his own handpicked crew this time out, which is another smart change to freshen the long dormant series. Standing out above the rest is Adele Wolff, a highly skilled sniper played by Ruby Rose. Now I’ll just come out and say that if someone doesn’t capitalize on how awesome Rose is as an action star and get her into the leading role of her own movie soon, well, it’s a hugely missed opportunity, as she’s just so damn badass.

Rounding out Xander’s small, yet efficient crew is his crash first, ask questions later getaway driver Tennyson Torch (Rory McCann), and DJ Harvard “Nicks” Zhou (Kris Wu). These two have some fun back and forth banter during most of their action scenes together, and the group as a whole just really clicks.

But the list of characters continues, as the mysterious Ghost Crew that Xander and his friends have been brought on to find and capture is also full of international stars. First up is Donnie Yen, who plays the group’s leader Xiang. Next up is Deepika Padukone, who plays Serena Unger, and filling out the group as the speed and muscle respectively are Tony Jaa as Talon, and Michael Bisping as Hawk.

Each character brings something new to the table, which constantly keeps things fresh throughout the film when it comes to mixing and matching sparring partners and action sequences. Seeing Yen and Diesel working together is action movie magic, and it’s clear that everyone is just having a blast making the movie because it never takes itself too seriously, and neither do they.

On the government front, Triple X has a new recruiter this time out in Jane Marke (played by Toni Collette). Having an actress as strong as Collette play Marke gives the role the seriousness and importance it needs in terms of the authority that this character possesses; but Collette doesn’t get stuck being all business and no fun, as she has some great reaction moments to both Xander, his crew and her own Tech Support helper in Becky Clearidge, played by Nina Dobrev.

Secret agent movies are usually known to have a geeky tech person who’s there to help equip the hero with items they’ll need to save the day. However, none have ever been as cheeky and downright awesome as Becky is, mainly due to how perfectly Dobrev delivers the comedic gems she’s given to play with. In a movie with lots of great actors all bringing their A-game, Dobrev has no issues stealing quite a few scenes when her character shows up – especially when she’s first introduced.

The pacing of the film is as fast and flowing as the action taking place on the screen throughout. There aren’t many moments where the movie stops to breathe, as it’s happy to just move things right along from one explosion to the next, all while keeping the plot as simplistic as it needs to be (bad guys have a device that can take control of satellites in orbit and drop them down to earth like bombs and the good guys have to stop them before they do it again.)

This all works to the film’s advantage, as it doesn’t need to get any deeper than it does. When you watch a movie like xXx: Return of Xander Cage, odds are you want to just turn your brain off, forget about the world and watch 90-minutes of crazy, over-the-top action, and that’s exactly what the movie gives you. If you’re looking for more than that, then you best look elsewhere – but I must once again put out a warning: if you do decide to seek entertainment somewhere else, you’ll be missing out on an extreme amount of fun.

The video transfer done here on Blu-ray looks great. The locales are all brought to life in their own individual ways, all helped by great cinematography and locations that really shine through here. The audio transfer is strong for the most part, with the music and sound effects being top notch, and the dialogue almost always hitting the mark. There are a few scenarios where the dialogue sounds over modulated; but they’re early on and are forgotten about soon after. Still odd that they happened on such a huge production in the first place, but such is life.

On the special features front we’ve got the following:

Third Time’s a Charm: Xander Returns – This feature comes in at just over eight minutes and talks about how Vin Diesel wanted to come back to the series and do right by it after all this time. The producers and director and other cast and crew also talk about Vin coming back, and what the film means in today’s cinematic world.

Rebels, Tyrants & Ghosts: The Cast – This is the longest feature at 20 minutes in length, and talks about casting this huge international cast of stars and bringing them together for this blockbuster outing.

Opening Pandora’s Box: On Location – This feature comes in at 16 minutes in length and takes us around the world to various shooting locations, sets, key moments throughout the film and how and when the budget came into play.

I Live for This Sh#t: Stunts – This 15 minute feature is fairly self-explanatory, going into the stunt work done on the film, the actors taking part, working out what’s best for the characters and the likes. Always fun to watch these behind-the-scenes stunt features when done well!

Paramount Pictures Presents xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. Directed by: D.J. Caruso. Written by: Rich Wilkes. Starring: Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose, Kris Wu, Tony Jaa, Nina Dobrev, Rory McCann, Toni Collette, Samuel L. Jackson. Running time: 106 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: May 16, 2017.

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