Film · Review

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

xXx_Th3.R3turn.0f.X4nd3r.C4ge_xXx has a title ripped straight from my MSN Messenger contact list circa 2006. it has a philosophy to match, as Sam Jackson so eloquently puts it, ‘Kick ass, get the girl, try to look dope when you do it.’ If anyone can manage that it is Mister Vincent Diesel esq. There’s always those murmurs that surround him in his more esoteric projects. His hundreds of alternate deliveries of the line ‘I am Groot.’ His fierce attachment to the Riddick property through its multiple incarnations. The fact that he supposedly keeps up regular D&D sessions. One gets the impression that he’s just this big nerd who cares a whole bunch.

Cut to the first time we see Diesel as Xander in this joint. He’s at an unspecified location in South America scaling a radio tower, steals a device and clips on his skis. You seen this in the trailer probably, he skis through the jungle, it’s improbable. After he runs out of jungle a local boy throws him a skateboard, and he skates down these winding mountain roads. Then he reaches some sort of industrial complex which he runs and parkours his way through. As time is just running out he connects the device, the television flickers on, just in time for kick off, Brazil vs Germany. Vinnie just wants to be a wholesome and righteous dude.

If you weren’t a fan of that description, it’s fine. You’ll probably not be a fan of the film. The craft of the thing manages to effectively convey the material but doesn’t especially elevate it in any way, and the sorta haphazard way action elements are positioned and introduced during the sequences never gets more fluid. At one point the Russians just arrive, why? Who cares, they add one more dimension to this already overloaded battle, who’d complain when it means more fun to be had.

Let’s step back to that beginning again, it’s like a clear reference to Skyfall. The faking death, hiding out, getting sucked back in dealie. It’s hardly original ground, but xXx deliberately plays on this notion by casting a character who is just a boundless font of cheerfulness and optimism at the centre. He’s at no point aggrieved or sullen about his exile, nor his reinstatement. He’s just happy to be there, wherever there happens to be at the time.

It’s a nice character choice because the film wants to be about a certain type of perfect, non-toxic masculinity. Xander is very much revels in his masculine trappings, he is this confident, physically fit, and (as much as I hate the term) ‘alpha’ male (ugh). He brawls, he stunts, he has (very explicitly consensual) sex with a variety of attractive women. At the same time he’s un-self-conscious, caring and kind. It’s Vin’s role, problem comes in that the version of manliness embodied here is by its perfection forced to the structure of this perfect world.

The sex, for example, in unproblematic because there is no notion of non-consent in this world, everyone it seems is Xander-sexual. Similarly the only women allowed to exist around Xander are those who are physically attractive, even if unavailable to him. Queer characters as well have to keep it to theyselves. By creating this fantasy version of masculinity, the film, while trying, completely ignores the problematic natures of masculinity that it attempts to erase from the universe. It’s certainly something to create positive masculine role models, but when you place them in a world in which their masculinization is expressly coded as a form of privilege it don’t really convey a meaningful statement.

What is a meaningful statement is the film’s relationship to America and its government. You know how I quoted the great Samuel L’s line at the beginning. The one about kicking ass… At the start of the film, it is suggested that kicking ass is an essential American trait, to be loyal to kicking ass you have to be loyal to America. It sounds silly but the subtext here is pretty clear about it. At the end, we reach the conclusion that kicking ass don’t require loyalty to nobody. I watched this film on Inauguration Day, it felt like the right choice.xxxthereturn

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