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.

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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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