Vin Diesel, Deepika Padukone & Michael Bisping think ‘XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE’ is necessary for our time

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(L-R) Vin Diesel as Xander Cage, Donnie Yen as Xiang and Deepika Padukone as Serena Unger in xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE by Paramount Pictures and Revolution Studios

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

It’s been 15 years since Vin Diesel last entertained us with his extreme sports-fueled answer to the 007 program, starring as government agent extraordinaire Xander Cage in XXX. In the third installment, XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE (which only happens to be Diesel’s second turn in the role), Cage is met with an even bigger challenge, fraught with danger and scandalous double-crossings. And just as Diesel enlisted the aid of a pack of global superstars, his character is tasked to assemble a team of badass elite agents to help him return a top secret weapon known as Pandora’s Box to the United States government.

The times have changed since the first film, thanks to Diesel’s other franchise (THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS) heavily informing this film’s diverse casting. At the film’s Los Angeles press conference today, Diesel proudly showed off the all-star cast, stating it was the right time to step back into Xander’s shoes again.

I needed to do XXX for myself, because I needed to play a character to be able to laugh again and smile again and really enjoy myself. I also felt like it was time to introduce to the world a global cast in the way that we have. There’s something so cool about the idea of going into other film markets and recruiting their celebrated heroes and incorporating it into this franchise. In addition to that, I don’t think people have been having that much fun in movies. That’s why right now. Is there political parallels? I don’t know. More than anything, the world needed a movie to just have fun.

Diesel, who also serves as producer on this film, glowed when speaking about his co-stars.

I had been a fan of Donnie’s [Yen] for quite some time. The idea of bringing him in felt new, fresh and right. There’s so many different styles. The way that Donnie approaches a combat sequence is different than the way Michael Bisping might approach it, and the way Tony Jaa might approach it. I knew Deepika from a screen test earlier for FURIOUS 7, but to go into Bollywood and get the queen of Bollywood and bring her into the global cast was so cool. I remember Quentin Tarantino talking about Tony Jaa in my living room and he was my good luck charm on FURIOUS 7. Nina Dobrev comes in and she wanted to audition for a role that was not her type. She grabs ahold of that role and you can’t stop laughing. She just has that presence.

Yen said his work felt more like fun.

Every day was like a carnival for me.

It was important to Ruby Rose, who plays sniper Adele, and Padukone, who plays Xander’s love interest/ antagonist Serena, that this movie doesn’t pit women against each other in the traditional, tired sense of the Hollywood action-movie narrative. This one passes the Bechdel Test. Rose said,

That was the conversation that needs to be had and that is that these women are so unique and different in their own ways. It’s so necessary and organic. The only thing I had trouble with was trying to not like Deepika for two months because we clearly liked each other. We have this amazing scene where we realize that, not only are we going to be strong if we join forces than to be separated, but it also gets rid of that pitting women against each other. The way it works out is so beautiful. It was one of my favorite scenes to shoot.

Padukone echoed Rose’s sentiments,

Every woman in this movie is so strong and powerful. I think that’s what we dreamed of this movie and why this movie is so unique. That women are intelligent, like they are in the world today. That’s one of my favorite sequences and we had such a good time together. She’s the best partner I could have ever asked for.

The cast’s intense action sequences led to many days in rehearsal for fight choreography and weapons training. Padukone stated,

Every weekend, we’d have to train with the stunt team. Of course all of us were doing our own physical training to be able to do all of our stunts and be strong, but we also had an amazing action and stunt team. When you have a team that makes you feel confident, that gives us the confidence to go out there and perform.

UFC champ Michael Bisping, who plays splinter squad member Hawk, credited the film for keeping him fit and agile enough to be able to accept a fight – one that led to his title as world champion.

Making this movie, the scenes are very intense. Because of that and the days off, we were doing choreography and weapons training, there were no days off really. That kept me in shape and able to do it. If it wasn’t for that, I couldn’t have taken this fight on such short notice. I accepted the fight and everybody thought I was crazy. I can thank XXX because I walked off the set and became a world champion.

One of the standout action set pieces in the film is where Diesel and Yen pursue and tussle through ocean waters on motor cross bikes. Diesel said,

We were trying to be really ambitious with Xander in creating something we called MXMA – which is something you’ve never heard of. The idea is martial arts with a motor cross bike. So in that sequence, you see he’s beating [Yen] up with his motor cross. We wanted to create that unique style.

XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE opens on January 20.

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Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.