Film review – XXX: Return Of Xander Cage

It’s film review time once again as Kpopalypse looks at more films with Korean pop idols in them!  Does “XXX: Return Of Xander Cage” meet required standards?  Let’s find out!

Recently I received another donation by Team Caonima, a blu-ray disc of the film “XXX: Return Of Xander Cage”, the action film starring ex-EXO singer Kris Wu in a supporting role.  As always I graciously accepted this gift and waited for an opportune time to review the contents.  I knew that I only had to wait and the right moment would present itself in due course.  Then sure enough, Kris Wu got into a spot of legal bother due to allegedly engaging in some very sordid Burning Sun-tier activities.

Since Kris Wu is about to be completely banned from everywhere in the world and probably made an example of by the Chinese legal system, and everyone is right now in the middle of burning all of their Kris Wu-related items and merchandise in a big classy-sexy pile, I thought that right now would be a good time to review this film before the very existence of it fades from public consciousness, and thereby answer the important question: should anyone even give a fuck?  

Released: 2017

Running time: 106 minutes

Wikipedia entry

IMDB entry

As the title implies, “XXX: Return Of Xander Cage” is a sequel to two other films, “XXX” from 2002 and “XXX: State Of The Union” from 2005.  I have not bothered to watch either of these two films, as they only contain the usual Hollywood cast of regular actors and a few token American rappers looking for something to do between albums, and not anybody who is a k-pop, so therefore they are not relevant to my interests.  I’m not familiar with anything about the XXX film franchise in general either (well, not this particular XXX film franchise anyway) so I am going into this third film in the series completely blind, with my only familiarity of the entire series being the promotional video for Kris Wu’s song “Juice” that apparently makes up part of the soundtrack.

Now “Juice” is a pretty fucking awful song, which only escaped a highly-deserved Kpopalypse worst-list roasting due to being an OST song and therefore ineligible for inclusion, but that’s okay because we can roast it here instead – not that there’s really even a lot to say about this trash.  Probably the most remarkable quality of “Juice” aside from being sung by someone who probably raped half of China’s teenagers, is that it bears the distinction of being one of the few songs ever sung by a 100% fluent English speaker, in English, with very minimal jargon, that still requires English subtitles to understand, thanks to Kris’ fake “mumble rap” accent or whatever the fuck it is he thinks he’s doing here.  However Kris Wu moaning incoherently over a shit backing track like he has balls in his mouth is one thing, whether Kris can deliver as an actor or not, and what sort of impact he makes in “XXX: Return Of Xander Cage” is quite another.  So let’s check it out!

Plot synopsis: Vin Diesel is the unfortunately-named Xander Cage (or XXX, although it’s not explained why he has two names, maybe the previous films explain it) and he must be very cross at his mother for giving him a name as crap as “Xander” because he’s managed to funnel his rage into becoming some kind of indestructible buff super-spy, who also happens to be desirable to every female he ever meets for no clear reason, so basically he’s a James Bond cliche on steroids.  Xander is retired, or on the run, or something (it’s never really clarified), and is interrupted from his hobby of fixing local TV reception by grass-skiing down a mountain (really) by America’s NSA to help stop some rando from crashing satellites into the Earth for lulz.  Xander is assigned a “team” for backup in tracking down said person, but he quickly fucks them off and instead hires his own “team” of operatives with various skills to help him out, like some girl who is a super sniper, a guy who can drive really well, and… Kris Wu, who literally doesn’t do much of anything except take up space.  To demonstrate how useless Kris Wu’s character is – this film does that ass-clenchingly annoying thing we’ve all seen and gotten sick of in action films a hundred times by now, where whenever a new character is introduced some lame bullshit caption noisily invades the screen describing some trait or whatever in immersion-breaking stupidly animated bold text, and here’s the one for Kris’ character Nicky Zhou:

Yes, “fun to be around” is his character’s “special skill”, and if that’s got you thinking “well gosh, in a saving-the-world action film he wouldn’t really logically have a lot to do, would he?” then you’d be right.  Being dateable doesn’t really work in his favour because all the ladies in this film only want to bang Xander anyway and nobody even takes a passing interest in anyone else.  Anyway redundant characters aside, Xander and his buddies get around to all that cliched saving the world business that is the staple of any “James Bond on steroids” action film, which involves a lot of stunts, a lot of shooting things, and even more stunts, and did I mention there are a lot of stunts in this film.  Things happen, shit blows up, cars hit other cars, generic bad guys get shot, people fall from high things a lot without dying when they hit the ground, and if you’re over ten years old you could probably write the script for this as good as anybody else can, there’s no real need to go into any more detail about any of it.

Appeal to average filmgoers:  One of the interesting things about “XXX: Return Of Xander Cage”, which is apparent almost straight away, is that most of the people involved seem well aware of how ridiculous this film is, and are clearly just phoning in their roles and collecting the cheque.  Toni Collette who plays the NSA chief or whatever takes a vaguely decent stab at actual acting, and a couple of the supporting actors do also make some sort of effort, but most of the rest of the cast, including Vin Diesel himself, just seem to be cruising along, acutely aware that their dialogue is just a segue to fill in time before the next person falls from a high thing.  There’s not a great deal of sanity in the script anyway, with a lot of events happening for no reason or just being glossed over, and it’s definitely a film you don’t want to try and think too hard about.  Everybody here knows that this is an action film first and foremost, and you can tell that scriptwriting wasn’t the priority when both Samuel L. Jackson and Ice Cube are in the same film but neither of them say “motherfucker” even once.  So assessing it as an action film, with action film expectations, and it’s okay – but certainly not great.  The action scenes are fast and flashy, quickly-cut in that typical Hollywood style which looks pleasing enough but also prevents you from really digesting how impressive (or unimpressive) the stunts really are.  There’s no real “wow” factor in watching impressive action when it’s shot from a bunch of angles with quick cuts where they could have cut in just about anything and you’d barely even know.  The action is also narratively boring, because Xander Cage is presented as such a laid-back yet invincible superman that there’s no real dramatic tension in the action scenes because you know that no matter what happens to him, he’s going to survive everything anyway, probably without so much as a scrape.  A scene near the end of the film where he’s in objectively quite a life-threatening situation that would make any normal person shit themselves and he instead screams out excitedly “I live for this shit!” drives home the point – an action film where there are no obstacles in the narrative, because the main character is so tough that nothing is actually an obstacle at all… is just uninteresting.  (Meanwhile, one of the supporting cast gets to carry ALL of the film’s fear of bullets/danger/falling off things, an energy which could have been spread around the team a little.)  The overall feel is that you’re on a theme park ride rather than watching a movie with a story.  If that’s all you want out of an action film, it does deliver on the theme park ride pretty well – just don’t expect anything more than that. 

Appeal to k-pop fans:  While it’s plainly evident that Kris Wu’s character has basically nothing to do, he does get a surprising amount of screen time in which to do that nothing, and by “surprising” I mean “slightly more than ten seconds”.  There’s no reason for him to be in the film at all, he doesn’t really drive any plot, and despite his biggest line being “I’m not a soldier, I’m a baller” he doesn’t even get to pick up any ladies (maybe they weren’t “pure” enough for him), his sole contribution to the action scenes is inadvertently starting a party that congests a room and ruins his own teammates’ sniper scope view of some generic bad people.  Yes, that’s it, that’s all he does – oh and like all the characters I think he fires a gun once or twice, if you’re into that (Americans do read my posts from time to time, so presumably some of you are).  I get the feeling that maybe Kris had a bigger role that might have been chopped during script revisions or editing, perhaps in a draft version of the screenplay he got to woo the ladies in the club a bit, but perhaps that was cast aside because in the final cut it was decided that too much of Kris being a ladies man would ruin the pacing of the action.  Aside from his physical presence, the song “Juice” does rear its ugly head very quickly during one club scene but it’s not enough of an intrusion to be annoying and it’s over with quickly.  Oh and no he doesn’t act his entire role in that shit mumble-rap voice that he used for the “Juice” song, nor does he have that stamp from the teacher on his forehead.  No other directly k-pop relevant stuff is detectable throughout the movie, even the second or third shitty trap song which played during the end credits wasn’t actually Kris but some other equally-boring loser.  However in what may be a nod to his ex-group, Kris does get to try on some bionic gloves called “exo gloves” that quadruple the strength of his punches.  He doesn’t actually end up using these gloves in combat later in the film (because that would require that his character have an actual use) so I can’t see any other reason why this scene is included.

Appeal to Kris fappers:  Like, are there any Kris fappers left?  Seriously?  Oh who am I kidding, of course there are, k-pop fans are never ones to let a little sex crime get in the way of stanning their faves, there’s a group of them in China right now, scheming how to break him out of prison as I type this.  So since you’re definitely out there, let me let you know what you’re missing if you don’t see “XXX: Return Of Xander Cage” – nothing at all.  Kris spends the entire time in this film in sexless jumpers and hoodies that certainly won’t be earning him a placing in any objectification surveys any time soon.  In a film which has no nudity but where quite a large amount of the cast are pretty keen to strip down to bathing suits and bikinis or have tattoo-showing discussions, Kris does not oblige and leaves his fans out in the cold.  Or maybe he did get his gear off and I blocked the trauma of seeing his “juice” out of my memory, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t.

Conclusion:  If you’re really undemanding and you’re new to this type of film, “XXX: Return Of Xander Cage” really isn’t that bad, it’s just nothing all that good either.  The stunts are fun for a while, and the film does at least have enough of a knowing self-awareness to stop you from completely hating it, but it’s that same sense of self-awareness that makes it nearly impossible to actually care what happens in it.  It’s nothing too awful, and if nothing else it’s certainly competently made on a production level, but if this isn’t the first action film you’ve ever seen, you’ve probably seen a better one.

Final score:  2 texts asking if you’ve “given yourself away yet” out of 5

 

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