XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

Yes, believe it or not, the “XXX” movies now have a mythology. And a back story. And supporting characters. Now that America has officially found the “Jason Bourne” series a bit worn, Vin Diesel makes his return with his clunky and ridiculous “XXX” movie series, reprising his role as the rebellious, bald, smart ass anti-hero Xander Cage. This is a break from playing the rebellious, bald, smart ass anti-hero Dominic Torreto, and the rebellious, bald, smart ass anti-hero Riddick, and–the rebellious, bald, smart ass anti-hero in “Babylon A.D.” After the unwatchable dumpster fire that was “XXX: State of the Union” the studio brings Diesel back to prop up a light reboot and sequel of “XXX” that also opens up a world for more movies of this ilk.

After being deemed dead in “XXX: State of the Union” (Diesel opted out of the movie), Xander is discovered to be actually alive and having been in hiding for many years (Diesel returns, because franchise) and is called upon by Jane Marke, a new superior running the XXX program. It turns out that there are many more XXX’s than Xander, and Marke has been training a team of XXX’s to help Xander the original XXX. There is a new mcguffin/super weapon called “Pandora’s Box” which can turn random satellites in to warheads. It turns out there are other XXX’s that abandoned the XXX program, and are now Rogue XXX’s being led by head ex-XXX Xiang, as played by the enormous Donnie Yen. Now Xander and his XXX’s have to stop the former XXX’s from delivering the plot device to their bosses. “Return of Xander Cage” is like the “Step Up” of spy movies.

Xander rather than working as a lone soldier, this time around assembles his own slew of marketable and diverse rebellious soldiers that help in his new mission. Pretty much every character is written as an attempt to appeal to some kind of demographic in a movie very much revolving around the testosterone fueled Xander Cage. Toni Collette is the hard boiled new superior of Xander, Ruby Rose plays a sniper who hits on literally every woman in the movie (because she’s lesbian! Get it?), and there’s Nina Dobrev, the adorkable tech geek who engineers all the gadgets and goes off on geeky tangents while adjusting her glasses every second. Hell, it’s a stale cliché, but Dobrev at least tries to hide her inhuman sexiness. “XXX: The Return of Xander Cage” is a big silly video game without the players.

It’s a lot of goofy far fetched fight scenes, a ton of cartoon violence sans blood and guts, and we’re consistently told how sexy Vin Diesel is. By everyone. Ultimately “Return of Xander Cage” ironically belongs to Donnie Yen, who steals every single scene he shares with Diesel. While Diesel lumbers around and spouts one-liners, Yen as anti-hero Xiang is charismatic, dynamic, lightning fast, and is the center of the best scenes in the entire movie, bar none. There is also the incredible Tony Jaa as one of Xiang’s main foot soldiers, and Michael Bisping, all three of whom play antagonists who actually manage to make Xander feel one note and stale in comparison. I wish Yen had jumped on board as Xander’s co-XXX, as it’d have been an easy lure for the impending sequel. As it is, if you can accept it as a goofy, silly, and occasionally stupid action thriller, it should act as a fun diversion.