Back in 2002, Vin Diesel eschewed sequels to his popular action movies The Fast and the Furious and xXx, but subsequent films like A Man Apart and Babylon A.D. failed to find an audience. Diesel fell back in with the Fast crew in 2009, so this late sequel to xXx is not particularly surprising. What is surprising is that xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a lot of fun, and bests the original in action. Diesel, now 49, is still believable - in a ridiculous, cheesy action movie sense - as Cage, the NSA operative resurrected to stop a terrorist plot involving rogue satellites. D. J. Caruso (Disturbia) directs, and Diesel is again joined by Samuel L. Jackson as handler Augustus Gibbons, plus series newcomers Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Kris Wu, Ruby Rose and Tony Jaa. Far from high art, Return of Xander Case is 107 minutes of entertaining overkill.
When Agent Gibbons is reported killed in Brazil by a weaponized satellite, CIA Agent Jane Marke (Toni Collette) lures Cage out of hiding. Terrorist Xiang (Yen) has stolen "Pandora's Box," which can be used to crash satellites into cities and landmarks. Cage immediately ditches Marke's military team, and recruits marksman Adele Wolff (Rose), a DJ (Wu), and a getaway driver (Rory McCann). They travel to the Philippines, where Cage turns gorgeous Serena Unger (Padukone) against her boss, Xiang, and discovers a far more effective version of Pandora's Box exists. The action then travels home to Detroit, where the team tries to thwart a homeland attack.
You know exactly what kind of movie Return of Xander Cage is within seconds. The film opens on its hero scaling a giant utilities tower to steal cable for local villagers. To avoid arrest, Cage then jumps off the tower without a parachute and skis through the canopy of trees below. He should die ten times within the first ten minutes, but he prevails. Caruso is essentially Paramount's director-for-hire, and I do not mean that as an insult. His films are serviceable and often entertaining, and his work here may have earned him the director's chair on the studio's upcoming G.I. Joe sequel/reboot. The original film ran too long, and Caruso wisely keeps the pace quick and filler lean this go-round. If nothing else, the guy knows you do not need to over explain bombastic action. There is plenty of that, of course. While CGI does creep in a bit, the film still offers a variety of impressive practical stunts.
This movie both ignores and celebrates the Diesel-less xXx: State of the Union. Never in a million years would I have imagined these Diesel franchises would be getting this much attention 15 years on. Middle-school me would be thrilled. Adult me actually had a good time with this one. Collette is feisty and plays to the rafters, her ice-blond hair as inviting as her demeanor. Padukone, a huge star in India, should transition nicely to Hollywood, and Rose continues to show up in entertaining B-movie actioners. Diesel actually seems to have fun here, and Return of Xander Cage offers enough humor, slick action and over-the-top terrorist bad guys to earn a recommendation.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Paramount presents xXx: Return of Xander Cage on 4K Ultra HD with a 2160p/HEVC/H.265 encode at 2.40:1. According to IMDb technical specs, the film was shot digitally at 3.4K and finished at 2K, which would make this an "upscale" to 4K Ultra HD. Unlike dismal standard definition to high definition upscales, a bump from 2K to 4K can have advantages, and this is certainly a capable 4K presentation. Caruso shot some gorgeous sunny landscapes, and wide shots are crisp and clean, with wonderful definition and depth. The included Blu-ray also offers excellent fine-object detail and texture, and the biggest improvement on the 4K disc comes with HDR. Colors get a vibrant bump in 4K, and bright, outdoor landscapes and tech-rich interiors are often strikingly beautiful. Colors are warm but never push too hot, and skin tones appear natural. Black levels are also improved in 4K, and shadow detail is readily apparent. One scene that does not look better in 4K is a motorcycle chase through a forest. The filmmakers clearly shot during the day and color-graded the image to make it appear like the action takes place at night. This scene on 4K offers a messy blend of roaming shadows and unnatural brightness; as if this impressive resolution pulls back the curtain to reveal the ugly filmmaking secrets within.
The disc features a rollicking Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which I sampled in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD. I can't imagine having a much better representation of a theatrical sound mix at home, as this track is absolutely immersive and impressive. Dialogue is crystal clear and never distorted by effects or the score and soundtrack. Directional dialogue and ambient effects are frequent, and the surround speakers are rarely given a rest. The subwoofer is called upon frequently to support the chaos, and action scenes offer blistering, whole-room sound pans. French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs are included, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K Ultra HD disc, a Blu-ray disc and a code to redeem both iTunes and UltraViolet HD digital copies of the film. The discs are packed in a standard, black 4K case that is wrapped in a matching slipcover. The supplements are all found on the Blu-ray disc: You get a Gag Reel (2:12/HD) and four featurettes with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage: Third Time's the Charm: Xander Returns (8:13/HD); Rebels, Tyrants & Ghosts: The Cast (20:18/HD); Opening Pandora's Box: On Location (16:10/HD); and I Live for this Sh#t!: Stunts (15:17/HD).
A decade and a half later, Vin Diesel returns to a core franchise, and xXx: Return of Xander Cage offers 107 minutes of over-the-top action and machismo humor. Those expecting high art need not apply, but this late sequel is more entertaining than I expected, and Director D. J. Caruso keeps the pace quick and action frequent. The film was mastered in 2K, so the 4K presentation only offers subtle upgrades. The package is Recommended.