I'm going to do my absolute best to leave personal bias out of this review, but in all fairness, personal bias really won't be necessary. When you go into a film like XXX: Return of Xander Cage, if you're expecting a masterpiece filled with incredible action, you might as well spend your money elsewhere; However, the latter half of that statement (at least for myself) was very present throughout this film. I enjoyed XXX when it was released (nearly 15 years ago now), but they really drove this series into the ground with the second instalment, leaving out Vin Diesel and bringing in Ice Cube as another agent. For that reason, I was very skeptical about them continuing this franchise, but I have to admit, I'm glad they did. If you are with the critics on how much they hate this film, you might as well stop reading now, because I admittedly had a blast watching this film. Here is why I believe XXX: Return of Xander Cage was unfairly reviewed by critics.
Go For The Action
The plot of this film is about as cookie-cutter as you can get. Thought to be dead over the years since his appearance in the first film, Xander Cage returns and is whisked back into action with his new team in order to track down a device called Pandora's Box. A few plot elements arise throughout, but that's really all viewers need to know. This franchise has always been about its extravagant set pieces (XXX: State of the Union not withstanding), but they have always been extremely cheesy. Although there are quite a few unbelievable action sequences, this film feels far more grounded than the others and many more hand-to-hand combat sequences are presented here. There was a real sense of fun, mixed with tension and dumb humour, that I found myself grinning from ear to ear most of the time.
Easing the audience back into the feel of the original film by beginning with Jackson's portrayal of Augustus Gibbons, fans of the original will very quickly know what type of film they are in for. That being said, just as fast as the old cast is introduced, new faces are brought in just as urgently. It was very clear when watching this film that the filmmakers truly wanted to turn this into an ongoing franchise like Fast & Furious. Sadly, due to poor performance (for the most part) at the box office, I can't see that happening, but who knows. If they can continue the momentum and even up the anti that this third instalment delivered, I'm all in.
Weighing The Clever And The Corny
Here is where the film gets a little rocky, even though I think most reviewers go a little overboard in critiquing this area of the film. You are supposed to sit back and have fun with a film like this, so when our main characters sit around a table playing Russian Roulette with grenades, surf the seas on motorcycles, or jump out of planes without parachutes, you should be applauding in your head while you smile at the pure stupidity and ridiculousness of it all. As much as I loved all that, I do have to admit that there are some pretty horrendous lines of dialogue delivered by most of the cast here. I cringed at a few of them, completely taking me out of the film, but aside from that, this film is made for pure fun and that's exactly what it is. Nothing more and nothing less.
My Overall Thoughts
This movie is dumb, plain and simple. If you go into it expecting anything else, then you will definitely be turned off. That being said, this is the best kind of dumb there is. It's the kind of film that understands what it is and embraces the terrible dialogue and wooden plot, compensating with quite a lot of kick-ass action sequences and a likeable bond (even though not much screen time together) between Vin Diesel and Donnie Yen. Where critics have this wrong is that this film is dumb and nothing else. There is a huge entertainment factor here, much larger than I was expecting. The trailers make this film look much cornier than it actually is, because the cheesy lines fit their context very well. I can see where the low grades are coming from, but this is a film that deserves a lot more credit in my opinion. Mindless entertainment at its finest in today's day and age.