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xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, Jackie

It has been fifteen years since Vin Diesel played Xander cage, so the first thing xXx: The Return of Xander Cage does before it gets on with having a story is reestablish the character. There are four things deemed essential we know.

  1. Xander Cage is a bad-ass daredevil – we get a chase featuring climbing, jungle skiiing, skateboarding, running and jumping.
  2. Xander Cage doesn’t play by the man’s rules – all that chasing was to cheat a satellite company.
  3. Xander Cage has a good heart – he was cheating a satellite company so his Brazilian friends can watch the football. (We’ll ignore the fact the game that kicks off is Brazil vs Germany, and depending when the film is set, his friends may not look back at him as fondly as they might).
  4. Xander Cage is good at the sex – one sex scene isn’t enough for this, it is also implied that he has sex with about a dozen women in one night to establish he isn’t wearing a wire or something.

We don’t need the sex. It makes everything too bro. About twenty minutes into xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, I started thinking to myself, “This is probably the best Bond film I have ever seen,” which would sound like a compliment if I didn’t loathe Bond movies. All I really meant by, “This is probably the best Bond film I have ever seen,” was, “This is a bit like a Bond movie, but the lead character is less of a prick.”

And then things change. Looking back, I still can’t decide whether that whole orgy thing was a misjudgement or a red herring, because xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is, give or take a misstep here and there, a twenty-first century action flick with a cast as varied as Rogue One and a message that is best summed up by Xander’s reply when asked if he is a patriot: “By whose definition?” This is a dumb film full of impossible things happening and one liners, sure, but it knows that, embraces that, and plays with the form in the most inclusive way. It’s all very heart-warming, watching cool people like Deepika Padukone, Tony Jaa, Donnie Yen doing cool stuff. Park your guilt at the door, this can just be a pleasure.

But, let’s be honest, it’s no Jackie.

After the disappointments of Manchester by the Sea and La La Land (and if you haven’t read Hadley Freeman’s take on La La Land yet, do, it’s great) it was nice to see an ‘awards season film’ that actually deserved the hype. Jackie is many things, a portrait of Jackie Kennedy, an examination of history, an examination of how we frame history and who does the framing, the transition from written history to recorded history. It is a film about image that is remarkably beautiful to look at, and a film about time that plays gently with chronology. Most of all though I was struck by how well it captures the space between a death and a funeral, the oddness and the normality of it, how it gives and takes. Natalie Portman captures how we cope with the early stages of grief perfectly, sometimes dazed and sometimes intensely focused, trying to preserve her husband’s legacy, surrounded by men who are part of history but have little sense of it. It’s my ‘recommend’ of the week.