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Second Look: Vin Diesel Rides with Donnie Yen in the Latest 'XXX' Installment

By Tori Preston | Film | May 26, 2017 | Comments ()

By Tori Preston | Film | May 26, 2017 |


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I love a good action flick. Hell, I love a terrible action flick too. As long as people are kicking ass in inventive ways while shit explodes around them, I’m a happy camper.

I’d been looking forward to catching the third installment of the XXX franchise from the moment I heard Donnie Yen was in it, because for my money ass-kicking doesn’t get better than Donnie Yen. And boy, XXX: The Return of Xander Cage did not disappoint. In fact, it was better than it really had any reason to be.

Honestly, I barely remember the first high-octane XXX movie, other than the fact that Vin Diesel played a dude who was really into extreme sports and that he hooked up with Dario Argento’s daughter Asia. I think he becomes a spy or something, and Samuel L. Jackson was his own personal Nick Fury. I know I watched it when it came out in 2002, but that was 15 years ago and I can’t even remember what I had for dinner last night.

I don’t think I ever caught the second installment in the franchise, XXX: State of the Union, which put Ice Cube in the lead after Diesel’s character Xander Cage was apparently killed. It came out in 2005, but I was a little busy back then being a pretentious Film Studies major and trying to convince my professors that I, like, totally understood Godard. So I was functionally a blank slate when I sat down to experience XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, which turned out to be completely fine. I may go back and watch the earlier movies in order to appreciate the references I inevitably missed in the new one, but it isn’t necessary. It stands on its own.

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First off, it turns out that Xander Cage wasn’t dead — he was just in hiding. And stealing cable access so people can watch soccer. He’s like a thrill-seeking Robin Hood. Instead it’s Samuel L. Jackson’s Gibbons who dies… when terrorists drop a fucking satellite on his head while he’s trying to recruit a footballer to his Triple X program. Seriously. There’s a device called Pandora’s Box that terrorists can use to drop satellites all over the world like orbital missiles. And thus the plot unfolds.

The CIA holds a meeting to discuss Pandora’s Box, which they have in their hands - until Donnie Yen busts in and steals it. And by “bust in” I mean Yen’s character Xiang takes a flying leap off the top of a nearby building and breaks through the window of the conference room they’re meeting in like it ain’t no thang. Apparently Gibbons had been trying to locate Cage for years without luck, but it takes Toni Collette’s CIA Agent Marke about 5 seconds to track him down when she decides she needs him to go after Xiang and his crew to recover the device.

After a perfunctory sequence that involves Cage meeting up with a hacker in London to retrieve his fur coat, have some off-screen sex and get the location of Xiang’s hideout, he assembles a crew of diverse badasses: Rory McCann (The Hound from Game of Thrones as insane crash test dummy/ getaway driver Tennyson Torch, Ruby Rose (Orange Is The New Black) as the sharpshooter Adele, and Kris Wu (The Mermaid) as the DJ party boy Nicks. Oh, and Nina Dobrev plays a nerdy/awkward CIA tech expert who helps Cage’s team out. Together they set off to the remote island nightclub that serves as Xiang’s base of operations, and try to get in tight with his crew. In case Donnie Yen wasn’t enough to pit against Vin Diesel, he gets his own crew of heavyweights to back him up including Tony Jaa (from freaking Ong-Bak!) as the bleach-haired Talon, UFC fighter Michael Bisping as Hawk, and Indian model/actress Deepika Padukone as Serena. Guess who will get the honor of kissing Xander Cage by the end of the movie?

All joking aside, the cast in this film is sick. They feel like the lineup of a less sausage-festy prequel to The Expendables, or maybe Ocean’s Eleven with Vin Diesel as George Clooney and Donnie Yen as Brad Pitt. Either way, the cast is probably the biggest thing XXX: The Return of Xander Cage has working in its favor. Everyone get moments to shine, and it’s hard to take sides when you see the obvious chemistry between the two crews — and especially between Vin Diesel and Donnie Yen. Frankly, I was hoping they would be the ones kissing by film’s end but alas. Can’t win ‘em all.

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After an insane shootout with some Russians (in which Ruby Rose steals the scene), Donnie and Vin set off on a race through the jungle on motorbikes that turn into waterskis. And that is basically the only “extreme sports” moment we get until a parachuting sequence at very end of the film. This isn’t a criticism, more of an observation. If you’re waiting for jetpack snowboarding or something you might be disappointed.

It turns out that Serena and Xiang didn’t see eye to eye on how to use Pandora’s Box (specifically, she wants it destroyed and he just doesn’t want anyone else to misuse it), so when Cage emerges from the seas with the device, she shoots it. Too bad that was only a prototype version of Pandora’s Box and the real one is still causing satellites to rain from the skies… because it’s in the hands of the Director of the CIA!

Look, I zoned out on a lot of the plot from here on in because the action was just too fun. Serena sides with Cage’s crew to hunt down the real device in Detroit, while racing against Xiang’s crew who also want to nab it. Then the inevitable happens… they all team the fuck up because THEY ARE ALL TRIPLE X AGENTS. Seeing Xiang and Cage work together is somehow even more enjoyable than watching them fight, and I could basically watch a Vin Diesel/Donnie Yen buddy movie every year from now until the day I die.

Also the CIA decides to try and kill them all with satellites and shit. Because of course.

I don’t want to ruin the end of the movie because there are some genuine fuck-yeah moments in the climax, but here are some spoilery hints in case you need more reasons to watch this joyfest: the aforementioned parachuting sequence is awesome, there’s a Hail Mary cameo from Ice Cube, and even the most Nick Fury-ish of returns for one Mr. Samuel L. Jackson.

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If all of this doesn’t get your blood pumping, then you may need to see a doctor. I’m exhilarated just thinking about it all. And the best part was that it was a complete surprise. I expected to enjoy watching some shit blow up, but this movie caught me off-guard with just how cleverly it played with tropes and how much fun everybody seemed to have making it. If nothing else, it was great to watch several women hold their own alongside action heroes and martial artists, and not feel like they are only being included to be love interests (seriously, the romance angle is so clearly an afterthought it’s basically a joke). I never thought I’d look to the XXX franchise for an example of why diversity in casting can and should kick ass, but here we are.



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