xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is not a good movie. It might be the most preposterously stupid spy story ever committed to film. The acting ranges from passable to “supporting role given to a pro athlete.” The laws of physics and common sense aren’t ignored; they are pantsed and pushed into a mud puddle. Still xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is largely an enjoyable experience. It is purposefully crass, but also very inclusive, with just enough self-awareness to keep its stupidity fun instead of unbearable.
Vin Diesel stars as Xander Cage, a former secret agent who is pulled out of retirement after his mentor is killed. He is out for revenge, and to retrieve Pandora’s Box, a device which can make satellites drop out of sky on people’s heads. It has been stolen by Xiang and his team for unclear purposes. Cage recruits a new team, with skills such as marksmanship, DJing and crashing cars, to help him get it back. Once he tracks down Xiang, he learns that his foe is a former agent as well and the real bad guy is somebody different. Eventually they team up to thwart the real villain and save the day.
It is easy and almost inevitable to draw comparisons to Vin Diesel’s other big franchise, Fast & Furious. Like in that series, this motley gang of spies forms a makeshift family. This one is even more diverse than F&F’s already multi-racial crew. While they remain only vaguely fleshed out, there is a lot to like about this team. The marksman Adele is the highlight, aside from maybe Donnie Yen as Xiang. Like Rogue One, this movie will leave you wishing it had more Donnie Yen. They don’t have the deep connection to each other that F&F crew has, but as they form a formidable team over the back half this movie really takes off.
This would truly be a trash masterpiece if it weren’t for some shoddy special effects and a third act that can’t quite top the previous over the top action sequence didn’t stall it out. There are a ton of moments of unnecessary slow motion or jumbled actions scenes that keep this from being pure over the top nonsense. But still, it hits close enough to the mark to be satisfying. Plus, there is a last minute reveal that nearly brought cheers.
It can’t be overstated just how gleefully stupid this movie is. It introduces Xander Cage as he skis and skateboards down a tropical mountain to steal cable for a poor Brazilian neighborhood so they can watch a soccer match. At one point Diesel and Yen get into a dirt bike race that ends with them racing them on the ocean. One of Xander Cage’s recruits only skill is being a DJ. During a footrace, Diesel and Yen are hit by about 4 cars apiece. They keep running. I’ll not mention Cage’s Bondian sexual exploits but they are over the top, though still PG-13. From the device they are after to the plot they are unraveling, this entire movie is all nonsense.
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is the action movie for people who find the Fast & Furious movies to be too high brow. It is James Bond for dirt bags. It is also nearly a fun as it is silly. This is not a movie for everyone. It is certainly not a good movie. But by certain measurements, it might just be the best movie.