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When a group of lethal mercenaries steal a high-tech weapon that poses a global threat, the world needs superspy Xander Cage (Vin Diesel).  Recruited back into action, Xander leads a team of death-defying adrenaline junkies on a mission to kick some ass, save the day, and look dope while doing it. (From Paramount’s official synopsis)

 xXx: Return of Xander Cage
The success of Rob Cohen’s xXx made a lot of sense back in 2002, when X-treme Sports were still a novelty and cinema audiences were still looking for excuses to avoid the dread of existing in a post-9/11 world. The Bond franchise had also crumbled under the weight of its utter irrelevance during the Brosnan era (the worst film in the series, Die Another Day, was released mere months after xXx and forced the franchise to reboot), but, in retrospect, Vin Diesel’s snowboarding television host was not the 007 replacement the early millennium was looking for. It was actually Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne (who made his debut in Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity mere months before Xander Cage) – the rough-n-tumble reluctant secret agent that the next Bond would be modeled on. Also, xXx is an incredibly mediocre movie and Rob Cohen is sort of a terrible director. There are plenty of popular mediocre movies, but, generally speaking, their mediocrity leads them into obscurity, eventually.

The first sequel, xXx: State of the Union (2005), which replaced Diesel with the slightly pudgy, 5’ 8” Ice Cube (no disrespect – the dude’s pushing 50 and could still beat me up without breaking a sweat), was a massive flop and trumpeted the end of the franchise for more than a decade. But, then, the other Cohen/Diesel franchise, The Fast and the Furious, rocketed from near-death to billion dollar profits, so it only seemed fair to try and bring back Xander Cage in the very belated and thoughtfully titled xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Cohen, who will hopefully never make another big-budget movie ever again, has been replaced by D.J. Caruso, the equally mediocre-to-bad director behind Eagle Eye (2008), I Am Number Four (2009), and The Disappointment Room (2016 – currently standing at an impressive 0% on Rotten Tomatoes).

 xXx: Return of Xander Cage
Given that history and the talent behind the camera, Return of Xander Cage is exactly the kind of movie you’d expect – nostalgia-bait for a movie that almost no one is nostalgic for in the first place. Remember how cool the late ‘90s were? No? Well that’s not really necessary, because this movie isn’t fully committed to that, either. It keeps everything ‘real’ at an ironic distance – except when it doesn’t. There is no baseline. I think it’s meant to be funny, but I’m not sure if it isn’t just wrapped-up in the faux-cool of its weirdly outdated lead character. It’s like an extension of Diesel himself, a self-confessed dork who has managed to become one of the biggest movie stars in the world and is compelled to make a movie about doing skateboard, ski, and skydiving stunts. I can never tell if he’s self-aware, if this persona is part of an act, or if he’s genuinely this self-aggrandizing. F. Scott Frazier’s script is self-aware, often obnoxiously so with its outdated pop-culture references, 100% platitude/catchphrase-filled dialogue, and half-hearted efforts to breaks the fourth wall a bit (not too much, though, because that would actually be interesting), but it doesn’t really matter when coupled with what actually appears on-screen. There’s a constant, grating frisson between the campy supporting performances, the comedically gravity-defying set-pieces, the painfully dull plot, and Diesel’s constant peacocking, which makes him look like a particularly in-shape 50 year-old that invited himself to a college party.

The most complimentary comparison I can make is to recent, effects-heavy Chinese/Hong Kong action movies, which tend to incorporate a very specific sense of humor and celebrity that creates a bit of a culture shock. The difference is that, formulaic though they may be, those movies tend to have well-choreographed action sequences. Return of Xander Cage’s action is either created using a series of over-cut close-ups or augmented with unconvincing CG effects. I don’t understand why the production, which was partially financed by Chinese companies and somewhat tailored towards Chinese audiences (the international cast is a point in the film’s favour, for the record), didn’t just hire one of the many available Chinese directors to make the movie. Does D.J. Caruso really have any brand recognition?

 xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Video


xXx: Return of Xander Cage was shot digitally using Arri Alexa Mini and XT cameras and is presented here in 1080p, 2.40:1 HD video. The results are vivid and hyper-clean with a very impressive dynamic range, especially considering how very dark some scenes are. This isn’t surprising, though, since Caruso and cinematographer Russell Carpenter designed the film for large format IMAX theatrical viewing, where fine details are the size of small buildings. Taking into account how difficult it is to differentiate the minute differences between big-budget, digitally-shot BD release, I do think this is one of the better transfers I’ve seen in awhile. The close-up textures, in particular, are incredibly complex (to the detriment of some of the special effects), but not at the risk of the uncanny smoothing effects that Caruso and Carpenter are embracing. The aforementioned dark sequences feature sharper edges around the deep shadows and rich gradations between shaded hues. The colour palette is vivid and, despite being mostly limited to variations of orange and teal, there are some impressively punchy red highlights. The closest we get to a problem is some digital noise build-up during low-light situations and minor ghosting effects.

Audio


Keeping in line with most of Paramount’s high-profile Blu-rays, Return of Xander Cage comes fitted with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. This review, however, refers to the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core track. As tends to happen with ‘downgraded’ Atmos tracks – on my system, at least – there are some issues with the center channel dialogue sounding a bit low-volume in comparison to the enormously lively and loud stereo/surround channels. That one issue aside, the sometimes obnoxiously busy soundtrack is a huge in terms of directional support and creative aural layering. Dialogue is clear and consistent, despite the wide range of sound effects and blaring music, the LFE track is punchy, and there really isn’t a single silent moment the entire film. The score, which blends exclusive remixes of popular pop songs with more traditional secret agent-type music, was composed by composing workhorse Brian Tyler working alongside Robert Lydecker. I can’t say I particularly liked the music, but it is very well-represented on this track.

 xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Extras


  • Third Time’s the Charm: Xander Returns (8:13, HD) – A generalized making-of EPK that includes interviews with the major cast & crew.
  • Rebels, Tyrants & Ghosts: The Cast (20:18, HD) – This more substantial, but similarly fluffy featurette covers the process of gathering the international cast and the characters they play.
  • Opening Pandora’s Box: On Location (16:10, HD) – A look at the film’s locations, production design, and set construction.
  • I Live for This Sh#t!: Stunts (15:17, HD) – The final featurette explores the stunts, action choreography, and designing the set-pieces.
  • Gag reel (2:12, HD)


 xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Overall


xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a meaningless movie that is torn between self-awareness and self-shame. It’s awkward, bland, obnoxious, and the action isn’t very well-executed. Donnie Yen is pretty good, though, and it’s good to know his Hollywood exposure is growing. Ruby Rose fans might want to stick to John Wick: Chapter 2, though. This Blu-ray release looks and sounds very nearly perfect, though, so if you enjoyed the film more than me, you’re definitely in for a treat. The extras aren’t great, but do fill in some of the behind-the-scenes information.

 xXx: Return of Xander Cage

 xXx: Return of Xander Cage

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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