Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Return Of Xander Cage?

The revival of Vin Diesel's career following his return to a starring role in the Fast and the Furious franchise in 2009 quickly led to a third Riddick film (shot earlier this year, and likely to be released in 2013), and talk of a continuation of the XXX series. However, for the time being it seems that the proposed XXX3: The Return of Xander Cage, is stuck in development hell. The exact reasons for this do not seem altogether clear, but the fact is less surprising than it may appear, and not solely because the second film in the series, 2005's XXX: State of the Union, was a flop. The fact remains that it has already been a decade since the first XXX movie came out, and even were the film to get a green light today it would almost certainly be 2014 before its release. A dozen years is a long time for a franchise--especially one which is premised on being an update of an earlier concept. XXX, after all, was sold as "James Bond for a new generation" in its overhaul of the idea of the adventurous and formidable, yet suave and high-living, secret agent who gets the girl(s) and saves the world from the depredations of assorted madmen.

As an attempt at a "neo-Bond," however, XXX had its share of problems. In contrast with other Bond-inspired Hollywood blockbusters, like Indiana Jones (with its archaeological theme, fantasy elements, period setting, and homages to yesteryear's movie serials) and True Lies (with its heavy element of suburban domesticity borrowed from the French film La Totale!), its reworking of the material was superficial. The early part of the film certainly succeeds in establishing a different tone with an opening scene in which a tuxedo-clad operative's conspicuousness at a Ramstein concert gets him killed, and the antics of its rebellious, extreme sports-loving protagonist. However, once Cage has been drafted into the service of the National Security Agency the innovation becomes almost completely aesthetic--Cage's conspicuously not walking and talking like an Etonian, meetings in dance clubs instead of casinos, fur coats instead of evening wear. Everything else is standard Bond imitation, the mission, the gadgets, the villain, the bad girl who turns out to be a good girl, the assault on the bad guy's lair with the clock ticking away to oblivion and the final pursuit, all of it much more copied than reinvented, down to Cage winding up at the wheel of a missile-firing car racing down a Czech road with the Russian villain's former girlfriend in the passenger seat. One might add, too, that while the execution of much of this was competent enough, the film displayed neither the flair or the scale to out-Bond Bond (was the ski chase, for instance, really so "extreme" as to put it in a different class from those already seen in the Bond films?), while some bits were decidedly sub-par. (The villain's plan is especially stupid, all the more so for being explained through reference to "anarchism.")

In short, XXX was a serviceable action film which had some fun with its idea of a Generation X/Y version of Bond, but which fell short of properly realizing that ambition, which at any rate is already showing its age ten years on. The "extreme" label has from the start seemed to many like a mere matter of marketing rather than substance, and in any case has long since been played out as superlative, gimmick and brand--so much so that it is no longer even the butt of jokes.1 Vin Diesel is now forty-five years old, a fact which has not been an obstacle to his continued participation in the FF films (he appears in Fast Six next year), but which makes him less and less plausible as the star of "the new generation's" version of anything--especially if one considers how much older he would be in further sequels (the prospects for which are naturally a crucial factor in any decision to continue the series). Meanwhile, even the Bond films have stopped trying to be Bond films of the kind it took as its starting point. Indeed, rather than the start of some new wave XXX now looks like the last major attempt by Hollywood to make an actual action movie using the Bond films as a model--virtually everything seen since then conceived as parody, from Cody Banks to Get Smart to last summer's Cars 2--while makers of more serious spy thrillers take their cues from Mssr. Bourne.

The result is that that update would now seem in need of a massive update itself. Even if this were feasible, and frankly I'm not sure that it is, it would probably leave the series unrecognizable, little of the original XXX's concept (already thin stuff to begin with) remaining but a title, a couple of character names, a casting choice or two--and it hardly seems strong enough to survive that. At this point I think it simply isn't going to happen, and that it's going to keep on getting less likely with time, the window in which the project could have looked like a good idea closed.

1. Stargate fans, for instance, will remember the episode "Wormhole X-Treme!"--which aired way back in 2001, almost a year before XXX came out.

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