Opening this week

Film review: Vin Diesel's XXX: Return of Xander Cage has superb stunts and an agile Deepika Padukone

Plot be damned: DJ Caruso’s ‘XXX’ movie is all about extreme action and the multi-national cast.

The opening sequence of XXX: Return of Xander Cage makes it clear that DJ Caruso’s movie will stop short of nothing less than world domination.

Brazilian football star Neymar sits across the table from secret agent Gibbons (Samuel L Jackson) and hears a recruitment pitch that will be familiar to fans of the franchise. In short order, people of many other nations raise their hands and flags to lend the hectically paced action movie the air of a United Nations convention. Donnie Yen (Hong Kong) smashes through glass, Tony Jaa (Thailand) outruns bullets, and our very own Deepika Padukone provides stern-faced back-up.

A thingummyjig that is blowing up communication satellites that survey the earth is stolen, and it’s time for Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), the American working class outlier and occasional patriot, to emerge out of hiding in the Dominican Republic and assemble a team of mavericks from Scotland, Canada, China and Australia. Cage’s global outlook ensures that wherever in the world you may be, you will feel the joy of watching a movie star from your country saving the planet from annihilation.

Deepika Padukone in XXX: Return of Xander Cage.
Deepika Padukone in XXX: Return of Xander Cage.

Extending the multi-racial mix that made the original 2002 film popular, Return of Xander Cage acknowledges that at the very least, Hollywood has to change its insular thinking if it wants to make the kind of films that rake in enough money to feed a small country. The superbly choreographed stunts and jaw-dropping action give every major cast member something to showcase for his or her nation of origin.

Yen, the Hong Kong martial arts star, gets his share of fistfights; Jaa has his Muay Thai moments; Canadian-Chinese actor Kris Wu takes care of two markets in one package; openly lesbian Australian actor Ruby Rose is a shout out to queer audiences as well as women with her ace marksmanship; getaway driver Rory McCann (Sandor Clegane from the Games of Thrones show) reels in television and Scottish fans with the same hook.

Padukone also does India proud by displaying deftness with weapons and catching the eye of Xander while aiming a gun at his hip-bone. After Diesel and Yen, Padukone has the meatiest of roles in the ensemble cast. She isn’t as agile or cool as Rose’s sniper Adele or as funny as technical support operative Becky (Canadian import Nina Dobrev), but she has enough screen time and close-ups to hold her own in a movie that is about the stunts above everything else.

Play
XXX: Return of Xander Cage.

The serviceable and lazily written plot is a rehash of the 2002 film. The fearless extreme sports fanatic Xander Cage is still putting his neck on the line without provocation, using skis on rocky surfaces, riding bikes underwater, and leaping off planes without a parachute. Helpful information cards pop up, as though in a cartoon strip, to introduce each of the key characters to viewers who might be new to the franchise, but Diesel’s antics and insouciance will be familiar to fans of the Fast and Furious films, the most recent of which was a massive hit in India.

The parade of stunts, one more eye-popping than the next, emphasises the ability of the human body to undergo all manner of punishment. A visual joke about Hollywood superhero films, which rely on gadgetry and visual effects to achieve the same effect, is present in the mean-looking pneumatic gloves that an American Army soldier wears to try and punch some sense into Xander. For Xander, his naked fists and wits are all he needs.

Adrenaline junkies with Red Bull in their veins have plenty to chew on in Return of Xander Cage, which never lets logic get in the way of spectacle. As the thingummyjig is located in the industrially depressed town Detroit and the action shifts into the American Red Belt, there is enough time to stop and wonder about just what XXX: Return of Xander Cage is trying to say.

Is this movie aimed at thrill-seekers also taking digs at Donald Trump, secret government surveillance, and anti-immigrant sentiment? Is Toni Collete’s manipulative National Security Agency chief the dour face of all that is wrong with American domestic policy? Are the remarks about true patriots versus government stooges and the statement that “the Central Intelligence Agency will destroy the world” more than just white noise inserted in between the endless stunts?

As pitches for conquering world markets and disgruntled domestic audiences go, Return of Xander Cage does one better than Gibbons’s glib and always successful sales talk.

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As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.