xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage Review

The first xXx came out back in 2002. I vaguely remember it; explosions, stunts and Vin Diesel in a fantastic fur coat. I know even less about the sequel xXx: State of The Union, save for that Xander Cage (Vin Diesel’s character) had apparently been killed off so instead Ice Cube was brought in to fill the gap. Now, fifteen years after he first starred in the role, Vin Diesel comes back for more extreme stunts.

xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage stars Vin Diesel, Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose and Samuel L. Jackson and is directed by D.J. Caruso. The film follows extreme sports star Xander Cage (Diesel) as he is brought out of the retirement by the CIA to stop a rogue faction from destroying the world.

I’ve given the most blandest of synopsis I can, because this a film without a story. Oh sure, there is a lot of nonsense about crashing satellites and covert-government types, all interchangeable and doesn’t do much apart from set up to some crazy stunts. And really, I’m okay with that. So many films nowadays take themselves too seriously, it’s good now and again for a film that just leans right into the madness and has some fun to it.

Vin Diesel does his usual grumble-mumble and cute one-liners, no different from the fifty other Vin Diesel roles he has. It’s the newcomers that are the most interesting characters. Ruby Rose gets to show off her action chops while flipping the table of what an “action heroine” should be, Donnie Yen get’s to kick ass in his style but has an actual backstory and motivations, Deepika Padukone is a freedom fighter who is conflicted over how to achieve liberty, this is all cool stuff in an industry that just labels characters as “the Asian One”, “The Girl” and “The Other Girl.” Granted, the other actors; Tony Jaa, Rory McCann, Kris Wu and Michael Bisping don’t have much to them apart from a name and a one-line backstory, but it’s still an improvement over Hollywood.

The other major point I want to show off is how diverse the cast is. It’s cool to see these big actors from Chinese, Thai and Indian cinema get some major roles and screen time in an American blockbuster.

I was drawn to xXx 3 because I was promised action, and damn if it isn’t filled to brim with stunts. While there is noticeable instances of green screen, most of the action seems to be done for real. Even with the use of handheld cam, the action is bone-crunching and visceral. This is why you get Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa in; these guys know how to fight, how to pull off stunts and make it look good. The plot enables these top notch performers to just let loose, with Jaa having an excellent parkour-infused chase on a freeway, while Yen get’s to show off his martial arts in a six-on-one fight in the finale. The finale ratchets up the ridiculous to eleven, with zero-gravity plane rides and robot boxing gloves, but is it still filmed relatively well, not obscuring any of the over-the-top action.

The film has downsides. I’ve talked about the plot, it’s got so many holes and loops that there is no point trying to figure out how and why things happen. This is one of those “plot armour” situations, just go with it. The film does start pretty slow, with at least an hour before it becomes a full-on action fest, with only minor action sequences to tide us over. Also, near the beginning of the film there are so many navel shots and full-body pans, it’s just tasteless. Refreshingly the main female characters aren’t sexualised in any way, but there is still a romance sub-plot that comes out of nowhere.

In the end, I left xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage with a huge grin on my face. For those looking for some good action and fun characters, but zero plot, this is one for you. I wouldn’t mind seeing this one again.

Score: 7/10 Over-the-top fun for the action fans.

Advertisements

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

And it starts. With a Star Wars film being promised every year until the foreseeable future, there will come a time when Star Wars will start losing audiences and eventually stop. But as we are just at the beginning of this saga, I guess these first ones will be good? Let’s go see.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, with Riz Ahmed and Forest Whitaker and is directed by Gareth Edwards. The film follows a band of fighters from the Rebel Alliance as they track down the plans for the newly developed Death Star, hoping to find a weakness in its design.

Rogue One had many things I liked. Rogue One builds on one of my main gripes with Ep. VII, it extends the universe and giving us some diverse planets. Episode VII gave us the same look as the others; desert planet, snow planet and forest planet. Rogue One has rolling green hills, island resorts, LV-426 and Mordor. It keeps the visuals fresh and pretty, even if we do go to ANOTHER BLOODY DESERT PLANET near the beginning, one that looks exactly the same as Tatooine and Jakku. They even have the same backstreets and architecture of previous planet settlements, give it a rest.

Another good thing were the fight sequences. Director Gareth Edwards said this would be a war film, and the extended running battles are excellently filmed. The final battle, set on that previously mentioned island resort, is a highlight of the series, with Stormtroopers and Rebels running through the undergrowth, across beaches and through shallow water, blasting anyone in their way. The inclusion of Donnie Yen as a fighter was perfect, and he used Kung Fu to defeat his enemies. I was extremely annoyed at the waste of The Raid stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian in Ep. VII, but Donnie Yen using wushu was enough to make me forgive the complete waste of talented actors in previous films.

Now onto things I didn’t like. While I was a fan of the story, the characters were boring. The film is full of questionable actions, with good guys doing bad things “for the rebellion”, but these feel like trappings. It’s a known fact that Rogue One went into reshoots for being in Disney’s words “too dark”, and it feels that the characters were meant to go through a bit more of a story arc before the film ended. Diego Luna’s character flits from being able to kill enemies to craving the sanctity of life, with no explanation in between. Torture is used on one character, but it’s after-effects aren’t dwelled upon at all. It feels like it’s on the cusp of something, but doesn’t have the will to see it through.

With Rogue One being set in between Episode III-IV, the film is full of little references to the larger series. To me, these were awful additions, and really drag the film down. (MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD) Evazan and Ponda bumping into our heroes, Red and Gold Leader appearing for no reason, Bail Organa talking about how he must return to Alderaan to warn them of the Death Star, they are put in as a nudge and a wink to the audience, killing all dramatic tension or build-up for a one-second gag. There were multiple guffaws from my audience when these characters turned up, cementing the fact that these were put in for a “oh, I know them!” from the hardcore crowd.

Rogue One tries it’s hand at a few jokes, most of them landing flat. Even Darth Vader gets a zinger in, with it coming off more like a Schwarzenegger one-liner than anything the famous Sith Lord would say. Grand Moff Tarkin is recreated with CGI, and while it looks uncannily like Peter Cushing, you can tell it’s fake. It might be his eyes, or the faint rubbery-ness of is skin, but something is off.

Finally, the film ret-cons integral parts of the series. It’s a small complaint and one that uber-fans will probably skip over, but the film starts messing over established points of the Originals and Prequels, which really annoyed me.

In the end, Rogue One has left me in two camps. While I enjoy the explosive set-pieces and the extension of the universe, I have to criticise the poorly written dialogue and the “keeping it safe” approach. While Ep. VII was a good re-introduction for the newbies, Rogue One feels like one for the hardcore fanbase.

Score: 6/10 Good moments let down by a script and characters that aren’t involving.