All We Do is Vin: xXx: Return of Xander Cage

All we do is Vin, Vin, Vin, no matter what. Got Diesel on our minds, we can never get enough. And every time he shows up in the cineplex, everybody’s wallets open up! … AND THEY STAY THERE.

It’s been a few years since we’ve seen Vin Diesel in the flesh onscreen, but he’s back in this month’s Bloodshot. It’s also been a full quarter-century since Diesel’s short-film debut caught Hollywood’s eye and eventually launched an improbably enduring career that spans several franchises.

As famous for his multi-ethnic makeup as his (sometimes literal) monosyllabic musings, here’s our monthlong ode to a guy whose career gets great mileage. This is All We Do is Vin.


Recently, the world was given its first taste of F9. Its trailer was full of glorious vehicular destruction and big emotional moments for characters in whose lives some audiences are unironically invested. In the preview’s climax, Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto drives his car off a cliff at full speed and uses the severed rope from a wooden-plank bridge to bungee himself down and upwards safely onto an adjacent clifftop.

Audiences have again and again embraced every hallmark of the Fast & Furious franchise — their convoluted soap-opera narratives, superheroic stunts and sexy car-on-car action. There’s really only one downside to the series: It features characters who aren’t played by Vin Diesel. When Vin isn’t espousing his meathead philosophy about family or punching the shit out of something, a bunch of no-names are taking up our beautiful boy’s precious screen time. 

That’s why the actor has put his heart and soul into birthing a franchise where we can get all Vin all the time. A character who will make Dom Toretto look like a 120-pound eunuch. That’s right, I’m talking about Richard B. Riddick, baby!

Wait. My bad … I’m talking about Xander muthafuckin’ Cage! 

Who is Xander Cage? Why, he’s the star of xXx (2002) and xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017). Imagine if, back in 2001, a 13-year-old drank a two-liter of Mountain Dew and spent all night writing a an action movie script that combined his two dearest loves — James Bond and the X-Games. Forget about lame-ass street racing; how about extreme sports? Better yet, how about … all the extreme sports? Xander Cage doesn’t just snowboard down a mountain like some normie; he skydives out of a plane with his snowboard while your favorite bands Drowning Pool and Hatebreed wail in the background. All these things and more were contained in the first xXx (of which there have been three total to date) — such a product of its time that it oddly feels more dated than almost any Roger Moore / James Bond vehicle.

Pretty epic shit, right? You better believe Vin Diesel thinks so. After Columbia Pictures made the grave financial mistake of swapping Vin for Ice Cube in the 2005 sequel xXx: State of the Union, Hollywood’s favorite chrome-domed thespian knew that audiences were hungry for more adventures with Mr. Cage.

Twelve years later, the ballooning success of the Fast & Furious series gave Vin enough clout for Columbia to greenlight xXx: Return of Xander Cage, a remarkable union of the actor’s unwavering narcissism and the original film’s extreme-sports shenanigans, an anachronistic angle upon which this sequel inexplicably doubles down. It’s a fascinating example of a studio and star having zero idea of what people found modestly appealing about their movie 15 years ago. The story details the titular hero’s return to the experimental Triple-X spy program upon the beckoning of its founder Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson, in a glorified cameo) to form a team of operatives and retrieve a terrorist weapon named (no joke) Pandora’s Box, which can, like, control a bunch of satellites and blow up the world or some shit. 

That’s about all the time I’ll spend diving into the plot mechanics of Return. This is a movie whose enjoyment can be found on a mostly meta level — a brazenly stupid vanity project and the kind of action blockbuster whose heyday passed decades ago. We are almost entirely past the age of the American movie star, so seeing Vin’s megalomania writ large upon the screen feels rather novel nowadays; this is what might have happened if Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman had been handed a $100+ million budget to make something as silly as 1997’s Double Team.

When we meet him this time around, Xander Cage is no longer an xxxtreme badass in his mid-30s, but a monosyllabic 50-year-old jumping off of a satellite tower on a pair of skis, tearing through a country mountainside before switching gears to street-skate on a longboard at breakneck speeds. His hillside descent lands him in a small Dominican Republic village that is, as it turns out, the focus of his mission — to give the locals access to watch a soccer game at the town bar.

Xander is, if nothing else, a selfless hero of the people, who can’t stay and accept any thanks as he has to quickly go and bone the hottest woman in the village. Their sex scene ends with a poetic visual metaphor for Vin shooting his load — a dump truck unloading a pile of sparkling-white rock salt. He leaves his old flame his long board with a note reading “Rule #1: Don’t Fall.” A gentleman to the very end. 

If this had been released 25 years ago, it would be a hilariously out-of-touch portrait of a dudebro ego running amok. In 2017, it might as well have stepped out of a time machine from 1995. But the beauty of Return is that, considering Vin Diesel’s notoriously controlling hand with his film projects, it’s a clear passion project for the actor, and there’s not a smidge of self-awareness to be found here. 

The overt text of literally any scene involving an attractive young woman and Xander is that his swagger and impeccable physique are so formidable, they cannot physically control themselves around him. An early scene, in which Diesel needs to retrieve his oversized fur coat from a female crime lord, requires him to sleep his way through a dozen lingerie-clad women lounging around her layer. Cue the aftermath and these women are strewn across the floor, sexually satisfied to the point of exhaustion. “The things I do for my country,” Xander smirks, no doubt still hard as a rock being the wild young buck that he is.

Vin’s cinematic tongue bath only gets more intense from there. When presented with a team of muscle-bound Special Forces soldiers to assist him on his quest for Pandora’s Box, Diesel ejects those spineless dweebs from the aircraft and assembles his own multiracial team of uniquely trained operatives in a super-dope montage. How uniquely trained are these operatives? Well, let’s just say that one of them is a DJ nicknamed “The Hood” whose mastery of the form allows him to disorient enemies by dropping shitty EDM beats at ear-shattering volume. Naturally, Xander is shrewd enough to recruit The Hood in case the team needs to infiltrate a dance party at any point. (Spoiler: They do.) 

The action itself is a bit too reliant on shaky CGI — I know, I know I’m a broken record about this — to match the script’s sublime stupidity, but the conceits behind the setpieces are enough. Like, did you know Vin and his crew developed a new style of fighting specifically for this movie? It’s called MXMA: Motocross Martial Arts, and it looks just as pointless and awkward as it sounds, particularly during a transcendent moment when a pair of waterskis pop out of Xander Cage’s motorbike, and he uses them to drive right through a fucking tidal wave

After Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw let me down so deeply, I can’t help but walk into F9 with some trepidation. Yet would the death of the Fast franchise really be such a bad thing? As xXx:Return of Xander Cage has taught us, our man Vin Diesel is at his best when he’s hungry. Maybe it’s best that Xander Cage rises from the ashes of Dominic Toretto. Or, in a best-case scenario, Xander could be inducted into the Fast saga as Dom’s long-lost, brain-damaged twin brother.



Avatar

Mitch Ringenberg has written about film in some capacity since his time at his high school newspaper. Nowadays, when he's not teaching middle school language arts, Mitch can be found in Bloomington, Indiana, ranting incoherently on Letterboxd, binge-reading and being insufferable about all things pop culture.


%d bloggers like this: