xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

When the main character of the first movie was said to be dead and replaced by someone new, you can’t really expect him to make a return. Surprise! Xander Cage is back in full-throttle in its third instalment of the xXx franchise “xXx: Return of Xander Cage”!

Trailer

Cast

“xXx: Return of Xander Cage” brandishes a diverse cast similar to the Fast and Furious series. Fast and Furious star Vin Diesel and xXx co-star Samuel L. Jackson reprise their roles as Xander Cage, an extreme sports athlete and xXx agent who was previously believed to be dead, and Augustus Gibbons, the NSA agent responsible for recruiting xXx agents, respectively.

Joining Xander’s team is Kris Wu as DJ Harvard “Nicks” Zhou, Ruby Rose as sharpshooter Adele Wolff, Rory McCann as getaway driver Tennyson “The Torch”, and Vampire Diaries star Nina Dobrev as the talkative weapons specialist Becky Clearidge.

What has really earned The Return of Xander Cage the hype, however, is its casting of martial arts stars Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa as alpha warriors Xiang and Talon. Joining them are MMA fighters Michael Bisping as Hawk and Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone as Serena.

Aside from team Xander and team Xiang, we have Toni Collette as CIA agent Jane Marke and Al Sapienza as CIA director Anderson. Rapper Ice Cube and Brazilian footballer/soccer player Neymar Jr. make brief but noteworthy appearances as former xXx agent Darius Stone and Neymar Jr. respectively.

Plot

Gibbons and potential xXx recruit Neymar Jr. are apparently killed by a crashing satellite. Later, agent Xiang and his team break into a highly guarded CIA office in New York City to obtain a device known as “Pandora’s Box”, which controls every military satellite across the globe. CIA agent Jane Marke calls upon former xXx agent Xander Cage, who has faked his own death and is living in exile in the Dominican Republic, to help retrieve the stolen box.

To pit against Xiang’ steam, Xander forms his own team of the good, the extreme, and the completely insane, only to realize that Xiang, like Xander, also wants to protect Pandora’s Box from getting into the wrong hands, the true culprit being none other than Jane Marke.

Action

The action is expectantly rowdy here, fists and kicks are thrown, guns are shot, cars are crashed, detonators are set off, etc. If you’ve picked this up hoping to see martial arts action like I did, you won’t be disappointed. With Donnie Yen playing a crucial role in the film, here ally manages to steal the show here.

His character goes into full-combat-activation mode at his first introduction, around the film’s 10-minute-mark. He makes quick work of a CIA group with clean, precise kicking, including a triple kick and a showtime kick that will no doubt enthral the eyes of viewers. His crisp, gun-fu skills that genuinely resemble moves from an anime show would surely put John Wick in a wheelchair!

Double team

Double team

In the final showdown, Yen goes Ip-Man-style, using mostly swift punches and hand transitions to disarm and defeat his enemies, not to mention that he makes good use of the legendary Wing Chun master’s signature straight blast or chain punch, landing a hard-front kick towards a soldier’s jaw whilst tripping up another soldier such that he falls into semi-splits and tears his crotch…

Most of the cast, including Bisping and Diesel, employ a streetfighting/brawler-like style, which is no surprise for a typical Hollywood action film. On Vin Diesel’s part, however, he seems to have been influenced by Tony Jaa as noted by his back flip knee strike performed in the final act.

Speaking of Tony Jaa, he had brief action time, no fights with Donnie Yen’s Xiang, but story-wise, it’s reasonable as Jaa’s character, Talon plays a side character, Xiang’s loyal companion. Furthermore, especially given the contrast in fighting styles between Yen, Jaa and the rest of the cast, and with his trademark acrobatics, hard-hitting yet graceful Muay Boran skills, hops, as well as athleticism, Tony Jaa still had his noteworthy moments that made him stand out. When we’re first introduced to Xiang’s crew, Tony Jaa is the man who comes to the party scene at the last minute to give the ending touch by flipping, kicking, and bike-jacking a gun-wielding motorcyclist. Some more highlights include Jaa’s flying double-knee strike on a soldier and a cartwheel kick on another both of which occurred at a late-night party riot in the Philippines.

Also take note that since our leading hero Xander Cage is a former extreme sports athlete, there is a solid amount of extreme sports-related action to take away here. In Vinnie’s first act, he equips himself with skis, takes a leap of faith from a cable tower, neglects the security there,lands into and skis his way through a jungle. He even gains some breath-taking air before giving up the skis to skateboard presumably 20 miles through rural traffic in order to adjust the TV signal so that the locals could drink and feast over a soccer game.

Xander Cage later uses a motorbike in combat against a group of soldiers that crash the night party in the Philippines.Cage even knocks out a soldier as he rides his bike in a flash kick-like motion before chasing Xiang across deadly terrain, through the sea and into the waves. These feats really leave the audience wondering why Cage is no longer honing his art professionally.

Summary

Fitting that this film is called “xXx: Return of Xander Cage”, because yeah, it is Xtreme, Xhili rating and Xciting. With an all-star cast, sweet n’slick fight scenes, and cool, if cheesy acting, X marks the spot here in the action stakes at least, a decent entry into the franchise, but let’s see what’s in store for #4…

Trivia

  • Donnie Yen has a reputation for working with professional fighters on set. He previously worked with Cung Le on “Bodyguards and Assassins” and Mike Tyson on “Ip Man 3”. Yen is said to believe in practical combat, and both Le and Tyson claimed that Yen would do well in practical combat. Donnie Yen is also huge fan of the UFC and said that he would have competed had it not been for a recurring shoulder injury.
  • Jet Li and UFC fighter Conor McGregor were originally set to play Xiang and Hawk respectively but dropped out.
  • As of this year, Ruby Rose also starred in the gun-fu thriller “John Wick: Chapter 2”.
  • Ice Cube, who made a cameo appearance in “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” as former xXx agent Darius, was the lead star of the previous film “xXx: State of the Union”. He also starred alongside “Rush Hour” star Chris Tucker in “Friday”.
  • “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” is one of the only three Hollywood films to earn more than $100 million in China without making $100 million in the United States, with the other two films being “Terminator Genisys” and “Warcraft”.
  • Although Vin Diesel was the lead star, marketing efforts were focused on Donnie Yen in China, and his image was placed at the front of some film posters ahead of Vin Diesel’
  • This is Tony Jaa’s second Hollywood film, with his first being “Furious 7”, in which he collaborates with Vin Diesel.

Film Rating: 7/10

Being first influenced by Tekken video games at the age of 13, Jeffrey Hu's martial arts journey began with Taekwondo and was self-trained due to living under a strict household. Five years later, Jeffrey received tutelage under Grandmaster Bill Dewart, (a student of pioneer S. Henry Cho) and earned his black belt a year later. Jeffrey's passion for martial arts grew as he went on to learn Muay Thai and Tai Chi. He's also a big fan of martial arts movies and enjoys movies featuring Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Tony Jaa, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White and Iko Uwais.

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