Tag Archives: Donnie Yen

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage

“Welcome to the moment.”

Oh for fuck’s sake!

When I said that I like popcorn flavoured junk food movies, what I MEANT was that I like fun films that don’t necessarily have something big or important to say. Daft action flicks that don’t take themselves too seriously.

It’s how I can watch the early Fast & Furious films without rolling my eyes to the point of agony. It’s how I can watch The Expendables without feeling the urge to push a biro through my ear. It’s how I can watch films like 2002’s xXx and 2005’s xXx: State of the Union and see them for the beer and pizza films they are and forget about them ten minutes after I’ve had a blast watching them.

I’m sitting down three nights after I saw Xander Cage return to write this review. I’m still furious at the insult to my intelligence I paid to sit and watch.

Years and years after Ice Cube saved the world, the Triple-X program is no longer a clandestine agency. It’s a full strength government funded organisation taking the most extreme people with the most fearless attitudes towards danger and turning them into super spies.

While on a recruiting missing, Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), the agency’s founder and leader is killed when a bad guy, with a weapon that drops satellites out of orbit, drops one on him. Not long afterwards, a team of highly trained agents (that includes legendary martial artists Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen and British Cage fighter Michael Bisping) break into a government meeting being led by big wig Jane Marke (Toni Collette) and steal the device.

Going straight to their last resort, the program hunts out and re-recruits the long thought dead Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) and send him and his team of reprobates to find the device and save the day.

So, yeah. I repeat: For fuck’s sake!

This film has two very clear, very distinct sides to it. Its first part is the cast. This is the part worth focusing on if you’re going to sit through this two hour cabbage fart. It’s the part where you see Donnie Yen kicking ass in spectacular fashion. It’s the part where Tony Jaa continues his amazing life-long audition to be the next Jackie Chan. Honestly, it’s even the part where Michael Bisping doesn’t make himself look like a complete tit and puts on a half decent show.

It’s these moments where the guys on screen are clearly having fun, and you get to have fun. For want of a shittier, more overused term: All those on screen have a chemistry that really shows when you watch them. Action stars doing action star things and having a damn good time doing it. Jaa and Bisping have an on screen bromance similar to Lundgren and Li in The Expendables, while Vin Diesel, the man that has become a Tesco Value Dwayne Johnson with this film, has a blinding time with relative newcomer Ruby Rose. This is absolutely because she is the one and only woman in the film he doesn’t awkwardly flirt with like a dog with three cocks; and these moments are much better for it. Even the surprise cameo that isn’t a surprise by the time it happens is a reason to grin like a fool.

Unfortunately these genuinely fun parts don’t make up for the shit show that is part two.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is so insulting to its audience, so unwilling to admit that those of us happy to watch them and give them the benefit of the doubt have more than two brain cells to rub together. In the space of less than two hours, this film managed to drop so far in my estimation that words simply cannot describe how insulted I felt as a fan of the series and how angry I was at how stupid it made me look. I’m willing to give most films a chance and I try so very hard to see them for what they are and enjoy them as such. But this film with its unforgivable jumps in logic and its inane, dried up dog shit excuse for a story take swings at my good nature every. Single. Second. It pretends to have something interesting to say.

As the thoroughly embarrassed Toni Collette tries her best to persuade herself of the legitimacy of the script she’s wasted valuable brain space memorising, she does nothing but put across the same brave face you’d expect to see on a kidnapped journalist trying to blink her way into a rescue, shitting herself as her captors threaten to end her but keeping a stern, straight face the whole time.

The film as a whole displays a level of stupidity that I simply can’t comprehend. Super-duper signal jammers find themselves a prime location in the film’s plot. Yet, every time one of them is switched on, everyone’s phone still fucking works. The latest recruit to the program is apparently a real life soccer star, so desperate are these people for soldiers that they stole a dude who can kick a ball in a straight line. But, it turns out, this was after they recruited a DJ in an Assassin’s Creed hood and an imbecile that likes to crash cars into things for a laugh. I mean… a super spy disc jockey? Really? What is he gonna do? Drop the bass on the twats with guns? Just please stop treating me like a fucking moron and put a little fucking effort into your film.

I was fully prepared to watch a mildly rubbish film, come out and review it saying it was fun but it’s one that’s to be watched with friends and beers and not taken too seriously. Having seen it, my tone has changed dramatically. There is no need to watch this film at all; I can’t recommend it to anyone, at all. I wouldn’t wish it in my worst enemy. It should be cast into the bowls of hell, along with La La Land and The Absolutely Fabulous Movie and forgotten about entirely, only ever to be brought up if you meet director D J Caruso as the reason you punch him in the dick.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue-one

To paraphrase another space based pop culture phenomenon: “It’s Star Wars, but not as we know it.”

With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we do away with the Skywalkers, the Jedi, the Millenium Falcon and the Force, but welcome a new cast of characters in what is a hugely enjoyable first Star Wars big screen spinoff.

Sure there have been spinoffs before: The below-par Wookie and Ewok spinoffs way back when, the whole (now non-canon) expanded universe of novels and comics; a few games; the somewhere between average and excellent animated shows Clone Wars and Rebels.

However, Rogue One is Disney’s first opportunity to deviate away from the story of the Skywalkers, perhaps beginning a new version of what they have already done with the Marvel MCU; and tell us how we got to what we saw at the start of Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977.

Rogue One tells us how the fledgling Rebel Alliance got its hands on the Death Star plans – and it does it very, very well. Gareth Edwards, whose previous work includes the interesting Monsters (2010) and the disappointing Godzilla (2o14), pulls off a space-based heist movie with all the added action and battles you would expect from a typical Star Wars adventure.

There are really two main characters, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn); the former is the daughter of the Death Star designer and criminal-turned-rebel hero. Jones carries this role out with aplomb, confidently and ably leading the film and the band of rebels as they go about their mission. It’s notable that female leads and heroines are becoming more commonplace these days; and she looks every bit the part.

Mendelsohn’s Krennic is the overseer of the Death Star’s construction and has the intimidating duo of Grand Moff Tarkin (more on him later) and Darth Vader breathing down his neck – quite loudly in some obvious cases. He shows an intimidating side when dealing with his foes and underlings; and an intimidated side when dealing with his superiors.

The support cast are also excellent, if underused. Perhaps “underused” is not the right phrase, but even the male good-guy lead, Diego Luna (playing Cassian Andor), is not that present in the film. Donnie Yen plays the nearest-to-a-Jedi Knight we have in the blind martial arts expert Chirrut Îmwe, who, while not attuned to the force, is certainly a believer in the light side. Of course a blind, force worshipping martial artist with a big staff that beats up stormtroopers automatically becomes one of the coolest characters. Mads Mikkelsen plays Jyn’s dad and the reluctant designer and developer of the Empire’s biggest weapon. Whilst we don’t see too much of Mikkelsen he is, as always, on top form. However, the show stealer is the droid K-2SO who has all the charm of C3PO and R2D2 but three time as much wit.

Just briefly back to Tarkin, who in A New Hope was played by the late, great, Peter Cushing. Now, rather than recast the role – tricky considering this version is the same age as he is in Episode IV – or leave the character out altogether, they have rendered him completely via CGI.

Now the likeness is uncanny, but it is quite obviously CGI. Was it needless? Perhaps. But I was willing to overlook it. Strange when you consider how all the CGI additions that George Lucas added in wound be up no end. But I know that, Lucas involved or not, LUCASARTS and LUCASFILM have always looked to push boundaries in terms of effects and technology, which I suppose should always be encouraged.

The film is beautiful to look at. Some of the locations they have used for some of the (stupidly named) planets just look stunning. There are enough nods and call backs to the original trilogy to keep fans happy without laying it on as thick as Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. Oh, and there is just the right amount of Vader.

Perhaps not as enjoyable as last year’s The Force Awakens – which invoked the same amount of excitement in me as the original Star Wars – and perhaps more recently Guardians of the GalaxyRouge One is certainly less flawed, more gritty, and tells a good, self contained story.