I should preface this review by suggesting that there is an abundance of negative reviews for this film floating around online. I'm not sure what people expected as they purchased their tickets to XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage, but clearly they were let down and had to voice their dismay through the annals of the internet. I suppose I'm more intelligent than every single one of the negative reviewers because I went into the film knowing exactly what to expect. With that in mind, suffice it to say that I was not let down at all. I suppose I'm willing to go on record officially right now to talk about how damned good the latest entry into the XXX series actually was.
In what could be the plot of a hundred different movies, a computer device has the ability to override all securities and is obviously a threat to the safety of the modern world. This device is being used to override satellite securities and is using said satellites as missiles from outer space to crash down on earthly targets. A team of rogue bandits steal the device and a team of equally roguish bandit-quality has to be brought in to recover it. Of course the plot is outlandish but the main character uses "extreme" sports to fight baddies. He skis in summer, he longboards. He uses a dirt bike to defeat a team of Russian mercenaries. My eyes are rolling as I'm writing all of this because on the screen, it's ridiculous. Frankly, it doesn't matter one damned bit because how the cookie-cutter plot is delivered ends up being two hours of pure entertainment.
Where I think the XXX team really hit their mark is by following the "Ocean's Eleven" and "Fast And Furious" mentality of bringing a whole bunch of people together and using them as a ragtag team to get the job done. Of course the main character doesn't want to use the government-supplied cronies to complete the mission. He has his own team that will inevitably gel and succeed where clearly no other team could. The odds are insurmountable. The struggle is real. Of course there's no other team for the job. Duh. I should comment now that I predicted how things would unfold far too quickly. I knew the "bad guys" would end up working with the "good guys" and they would form a super team to take down the crooked government agent that hired the "good guys" initially. I mean, I could write this shit in my sleep. I've seen enough movies to know how it's going to play out and I was right. I'm generally right in these situations because I understand the pathos of shitty movies. While not reinventing the wheel, XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage manages to keep the current wheel shiny and spinning at exactly the right speed.
In going for a "team effort", XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage does so with gusto. Enlisting a crack team of people that might not be at Ocean's calibre on paper, they filled the shoes quite well in my books. Firstly, let me say that Donnie Yen needs to be in move films. This guy is amazing. I find it difficult to put into words how skilled he is, and that boyish grin he has always lets you know he's up to something. Can't speak highly enough about him. He stole every scene in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and this is no different. Adding to the male factor of the team, Tony Jaa, a UFC guy, and a dude from Game Of Thrones make appearances. I can't speak about the UFC or GoT action, because I don't know anything about either. I can say that Tony Jaa does far too many flips for any normal movie. Of course it works in XXX. The ladies on the team are pretty great as well. A Danish Indian woman who has starred in a ton of Bollywood films is kind of the leader/equal to Xander, a lady from Orange Is The New Black plays a sniper, and my personal favourite would be Nina Dobrev, playing a super-nerdy desk jockey. Almost all the characters are sussed out well enough to feel useful through the whole film, except the UFC guy. His character was pretty generic and I think the movie would have played out the same without that guy. Regardless, all of the "good guy" characters were great. Again, Donnie Yen for the win! Toni Collette takes on some pretty great and interesting roles, and this is no different. I remember first being introduced to her back in 2003's About A Boy, where she played a depressed mum that attempts suicide. What a transformation to XXX's government stooge! Her bravado was never overbearing. Her slicked-back bleached-blonde look was the right amount of slimy. In a kind-of sort-of spoiler alert, we don't see her die on-screen so maybe she'll come back for another film! There's a few cameos to round out a cast that I felt was really fun and exciting. I think, however, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least briefly speak about Vin Diesel's character of Xander Cage. I'm sure my guard was lowered because I knew the kind of film I was getting myself into, but wow. Vin Diesel is terrible. His one-liners are cringe-worthy. His bravado and charisma are suspect at the best of times. I don't know how he continues to experience success in Hollywood because he simply isn't good. That being said and knowing he was the low-point of this film, I don't care. I've come to know where to set the bar when it comes to movies with Vin Diesel on-screen. He doesn't try to be anything more than he is. He's not vying for awards and I think that's what makes him so damned great. I enjoy all of the films he's in (even though I shouldn't) and admit it unabashedly. I'm a Vin Diesel fan. Hell, when it comes to this film, I don't really have any complaints.
I know the other reviews have skewered the plot, the acting, and basically everything about this latest XXX film. I hope to have made the case that none of this is a problem whatsoever. It hits all the necessary points to be a win in my books. Everything about it was fun and never once did it take itself seriously. That's so important in an action film like this. While it might have been a bit safe (especially for an "extreme" movie), ultimately it matters not because safe can work if done correctly. The entire Marvel Cinematic Universe is safe and I enjoy every movie to be churned out of that factory. A film doesn't have to change my life to be enjoyable and this film certainly didn't change my life. I went in hoping for and getting a thrilling and laugh-out-loud two hours out of it, and that's all I wanted. Consider my escapist quota filled expertly and this is the sort of summer blockbuster entertainment I've been missing. I'll probably see XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage again and recommend it to anyone wanting to kill a few hours and be thoroughly entertained the entire time.