Skip to main content

XXx: Return of Xander Cage sees the return of original star Vin Diesel, left, with appearances by action star Donnie Yen and Deepika Padukone.

2 out of 4 stars

Title
xXx: Return of Xander Cage
Written by
F. Scott Frazier
Directed by
D.J. Caruso
Starring
Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen and Toni Collette
Genre
Action
Classification
PG
Country
USA
Language
English

It is an unplanned stroke of poetry that the xXx franchise – centred on reluctant spies recruited by the National Security Agency – is premiering its latest instalment the same week that outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama has granted executive clemency to whistle-blower and former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning.

Director D.J. Caruso's xXx: Return of Xander Cage, starring action-movie hero par excellence Vin Diesel, is the most critical movie in the trilogy, openly mocking the hypocrisy of who gets lauded as a patriot and who does not. The film's timeliness, however, is good fortune rather than Paramount's capacity for political prophecy. Whereas Manning sacrificed her freedom to reveal the U.S. government's repeated human-rights violations abroad and stateside, Xander Cage's modus operandi is to "kick some ass, get the girl, and look dope while doing it." Hero is, as ever, a relative term.

The blockbuster series – which most of the time resembles a feature-length energy-drink commercial – was created by Rich Wilkes and has been playing musical chairs with its directors since Rob Cohen (of The Fast and the Furious fame) helmed the inaugural xXx (2002). Then it was Lee Tamahori behind xXx: State of the Union (2005), which swapped Diesel as its lead for Ice Cube. And now Caruso dusts off the franchise after 12 long years – the time it took Diesel to make five more Fast and the Furious films.

Story continues below advertisement

In Return, we rejoin Diesel reprising his role as Xander – thought to be dead, but really just living off the grid – skateboarding and zipping around on skis through an unnamed jungle, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor like a juiced-up Robin Hood. After very little cajoling by the head of the NSA, Xander hits the spy beat once again. With his handler Gibbons (a brief appearance by Samuel L. Jackson) out of the picture following a disaster, Xander is left to answer to Jane Marke – a tough-as-nails boss played by the impeccable Toni Collette in bleach-blonde roots and charcoaled eyelids.

Before too long, though, Xander clashes with Jane's attempts to flex her government authority and decides to recruit his own team of anti-authoritarian misfits to retrieve a dangerous weapon called Pandora's Box. Xander's band of rogues is played by Ruby Rose, Kris Wu and Rory McCann, and they come dressed in some of the worst costume design I have ever seen, from Wizard of Oz emerald-green hair to oversized shearling coats and floppy newsboy hats. It's as though the worst of the late nineties has come back to haunt us. Costume designer Kim Tillman has described her vision for the film as "chic and urban," which I believe is the problem.

When Xander and his crew clash with another rogue spy cell – the franchise here introducing the deliberately diverse cast of Deepika Padukone, Donnie Yen and martial artist Tony Jaa – the movie gets louder and its plot and purpose murkier. Nina Dobrev joins the team, too, as a bespectacled tech nerd looking for a good time, but all the one-line zingers in the world can't save Return of Xander Cage from its own moral confusion. The fantasy at the heart of the film is a libertarian one where its hero is an invincible everyman, one who is safe from the nefarious government and its constant choreography of global chaos. But where does he go next?

It goes without saying that the American public's relationship to the NSA has changed dramatically since the first xXx movie in 2002 – a sea change that this film seeks to play up – but the script, written by F. Scott Frazier, doesn't quite know what to do with its critique of the NSA's unchecked power. The movie lauds its rebels who live outside the bounds of the state, but they are left running for their lives. Must the morally conscious always be runaways? Isn't it possible to fight forms of state power from within the system like Manning?

With U.S. intelligence concluding that the Russian government used hacking to shape the outcome of the recent presidential election, and pointed to the role of WikiLeaks therein, it also seems less clear-cut whether those occupying unconventional spaces of power – such as Julian Assange, for instance – are always on the right side of history. Not all heroes wear capes, and not all rebels are heroes.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter