xXx: 15th Anniversary EditionOverview -
From Revolution Studios and Sony Pictures, Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is a notorious underground thrill-seeker who, until now, has been deemed untouchable by the law. But when crack NSA Agent Gibbons convinces Cage to infiltrate a ruthless Russian crime ring, this new breed of secret agent (codename: XXX) takes down the enemies of justice with a vengeance in this high-octane, turbo-charged thrill-ride from the acclaimed director of The Fast and the Furious.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
At what point is it too late to do a right proper sequel to a semi-popular action franchise that most folks have long forgotten? Before he was a household name, Vin Diesel was playing bit parts and second fiddle. With the one-two punch that was 2000's 'Pitch Black' followed by 2001's 'The Fast and the Furious,' the gravely-voiced muscle man was launched to superstardom - and the man needed a franchise that truly put him front and center without having to share the screen. Enter 2002's Rob Cohen helmed 'xXx' - a "James Bond meets the X Games" genre mashup that has it's share of impressive stunts but is more silly than thrilling.
When the Euro-trash terrorist group Anarchy 99 lead by the ruthless Yorgi (Marton Csokas) threatens the annihilation of major cities with stolen Soviet biological weapons, the NSA must turn to outside sources to protect the world. Agent Augustus Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) has a few men on his roster that would be perfect for such a dangerous task. At the front of the pack is extreme sports athlete and social justice warrior Xander Cage (Vin Diesel). While Cage would rather be anywhere but under the heel of Gibbons, his antics have racked up an impressive rap sheet that would result in a one-way ticket to Leavenworth.
With no other options, Cage becomes the world's most unlikely super-spy on a death-defying mission to stop Anarchy 99 from achieving their goals. Aided by the beautiful former Russian Intelligence agent Yelena (Asia Argento), Cage must use his badass attitude, instinct, and athletic abilities in order to motocross, snowboard, and parasail his way through enemy fire if he hopes to stop Yorgi's diabolical plot to destroy the world - with a solar powered submarine that shoots missiles filled with bioweapons.
I don't mean to be flippant or insulting when I say outright that 'xXx' is a stupid movie. I call it a stupid movie with love. It's just good old fashioned ridiculous 80s-style action and adventure mayhem at its best - or worst depending on your position with this flick. I have fond memories of catching this movie in theaters as Vin Diesel was an actor whose star was on the rise. After a solid supporting performance in 'Saving Private Ryan' and his leading turns in 'Pitch Black,' 'The Fast and the Furious' and 'Knockaround Guys,' Vin Diesel was in hot demand for any big budget movie. Heck, the man was even offered the lead for 2003's 'Daredevil' - which he wisely turned down. With that much street cred circulating Hollywood, the world was Vin's oyster. To this day I remember being wildly entertained by the explosions and stunts and the cartoonish violence that culminated with a laughable finale. I wouldn't call 'xXx' a "bad movie" in the traditional sense, but it's certainly not a good film and is best viewed as a sort of guilty pleasure.
Like the best and the worst of any of the Bond films, a spy flick is only as good as the threat of central villain. Sadly, Marton Csokas' Yorgi is the sort of thick mucus material you find at the bottom of the barrel. As he struts around bare-chested in oversized furry coats drinking absenth and listening to Euro-metal bands, his plot to destroy the world is pointless and his method is something that Dick Dastardly and Wile E. Coyote would concoct in a drunken stupor. It's around the point where his grand design is revealed that any genuine threat or seriousness behind his villainy simply becomes laughable. As a result, the overly complicated super stunts Vin Diesel's Xander Cage concocts to save the day become just as laughably ridiculous to the point that no amount of CGI can make anything the audience sees even remotely believable. Without any believability, there's no threat, and without a threat, there's very little suspense to hang a spy thriller on. Hopping motocross bikes through barbed wire and explosions is one thing, but when that's all a movie's got, it becomes a bit boring. Thankfully Vin is in on the joke and it doesn't stop him from giving it his all.
As 'xXx: The Return of Xander Cage' arrives in theaters, we're treated with the revelation that this movie is now 15 years old. Time sure flies. As the Diesel-free sequel failed to muster any enthusiasm, it makes one wonder if there was anything left in the well worth jumping back in for to bring this festering franchise back to life? Honestly, in the fifteen years since this first 'xXx' hit theaters, I may have only watched it a single time and never once missed it or felt the need to reenter the "Xander-Zone." That isn't to say 'xXx' is the worst action film to come out of the early 2000s, but it's hardly the best, nor is is it one I would think required another outing all these years later. If you were only a casual fan of this original film, you're probably not going to find something new to love, and if you were a fan before, you may find that it hasn't aged all too well. 'xXx' was an alright film in 2002 and remains so in 2017. Not great, not terrible, but somewhere in the guilty pleasure middle.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'xXx' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony as a "15th Anniversary Edition." Pressed onto a Region Free BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy snapper Blu-ray case. The disc loads to trailers for other Sony releases before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. The disc also comes with a Digital HD voucher slip.
The new 4k remaster of 'xXx' provides a pleasing base that retains a film-like presence in this newly minted 2.39:1 1080p transfer. I never took a look at the original release from 2006, so I can't swear by any stretch of improvements in image quality, but I will say that I am damned impressed - to a point. Film grain is present throughout but rarely veers on the noisy side of things and gives rise to a nice amount of detail punch. Jackson's scarred face looks terrifically creepy and the detail work done for Vin's tattoos are impressive. Establishing shots can look particularly picturesque. Colors tend to favor the warmer yellows/browns but primaries have their day in the sun while flesh tones look accurate and healthy. Black levels are impressively inky with solid shadow separation giving the image a notable sense of depth and dimension to it. Where the image can falter is during the later half when the stunts become so wild and harebrained that they require heavy CGI to complete the illusion, these effects stand out like a sore thumb and readily break the flow of the film. Otherwise, the source for this transfer is free of any age-related issues and looks pretty terrific.
'xXx' arrives with a newly minted DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. All around this is the sort of track fans would want for their action movies. Gunfire, explosions, car engines, all have a reverberating roar and thundering effect to them that puts you right in the center of the action. Dialogue keeps to the front/center channels for the most part and is never at odds with the sound effects or the score by Randy Edelman. Surround channels are always working and present as atmospherics do a terrific job of establishing a sense of space and dimension to any given scene. All in all this is a pretty immersive track and is a heck of a lot of fun to listen to - especially during the film's more ridiculous scenes like the avalanche snowboarding bit. Levels are even throughout without any sudden spikes or dramatic dips and dialogue clarity is never an issue so once you have this set at a comfortable level, you won't have to keep a thumb on the remote. My one suggestion is to crank it up, it's a loud movie so it's fun to go for broke with it.
New - Origins of a Renegade: (HD 6:27) As the only new bonus feature created for this release, it's a brief look back at this first film, the franchise, and features a quick look at the new film. All in all it's not much more than an EPK puff piece.
Audio Commentary: Director Rob Cohen holds his own in this solo commentary track as he details the production, the goals of creating a new sub-genre within the workings of a spy film, shooting the stunts and so forth. Some of the other bonus features do a better job of detailing specifics, but this is a solid worthwhile listen.
Deleted Scenes: (SD 15:51) With an optional Rob Cohen commentary track, there really isn't anything earth shattering that was left out, most of this is side stuff that needed to be cut for run time or if the scene just flat out didn't work.
xXx: A Filmmaker's Diary: U.S. / Pre-Preproduction: (SD 15:27) This is a pretty great look at the behind the scenes workings of a large scale action film. Director Rob Cohen "hosts" this series and features plenty of cast/crew interviews and behind the scenes footage.
xXx: A Filmmaker's Diary: Prague / Post-Production: (SD 25:26) Remember when virtually every movie was shooting in Prague? This is a pretty cool look at the shooting locations in the city and the beginnings of the post-production process as editing gets underway.
Starz! On the Set: The Making of xXx: (SD 14:32) Another EPK style bonus feature that has the traditional behind the scenes footage with the usual cast and crew interviews. Nothing really new here but still a good look.
Diesel Powered: (SD 6:50) Pretty standard EPK stuff as cast/crew talk up Vin Diesel and how edgy and new his Xander Cage character is for the spy genre.
Visual Effects How To: (SD 3:04) Comprised of Creating the Mountain Avalanche, Creating an Avalanche, and Shack Explosion, this is a fun - if a bit dated - bonus feature that briefly details how this scene was created.
Avalanche Scene: (SD 5:37) This is a simple storyboard vs final sequence comparison feature.
Drug Far: (SD 5:08) Another storyboard vs final sequence comparison.
Building Speed: The Vehicles of xXx: (SD 6:55) Another gear piece this time looking at the bikes and cars of the film.
Agent Shavers' Gadgets Presentation: (SD 3:44) Your traditional quick look at all of the great Xander Cage gets to play with in the film.
Designing The World of xXX: (SD 14:35) This is a pretty cool look at all of the locations the film was shot in, the effects work, stunts, and the props and costumes.
End Credit Sequence Raw and Uncut: (SD 3:34) Not sure exactly what needed to be "cut" from this but it's here and sadly not in HD making the smaller window-boxed screen harder to appreciate.
I Will Be Heard Music Video: (SD 3:09)
Adrenaline Music Video: (SD 4:18)
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 2:34)
'xXx' is good old fashioned loud and explosive dumb fun. If you think about it too hard you'll just end up hurting yourself, so check your brain at the door if you want to enjoy it. While it's hardly Vin Diesel's best work, it was the film that more or less cemented his leading man status. At 15 years old, the film does feel a bit dated, but this Blu-ray from Sony is a fine release. With a solid A/V presentation and chockfull of vintage bonus features, this disc is a must own for fans. If you've never seen 'xXx' it's certainly an entertaining flick and a good way to burn a couple hours on mindless entertainment. Recommended.
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