Bollywood through a feminist lens

Review: xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

The living room is fairly spacious, taking up half of the bottom floor of the house. The walls are a sweet light blue, with a dark blue set of loveseat, sofa, and ottoman. The TV stand and coffee table are a matching light blonde wood: Ikea. Some old black TV trays are covered in papers and books. The TV stand holds the flat-screen television, video games, and Xbox One. The Xbox also plays DVDs which are, nonsensically, stored on a shelf across the room.

The living room also houses at least 5 laptops and two actual DVD players, yet the only way to watch DVDs (and Blu-rays, if that’s important to you) is on the Xbox.

“Is it alright if I watch a movie?” my husband asked. “I rented Prometheus and xXx: Return of Xander Cage.

“Uh, xXx, I guess,” I said. I returned to my laptop; I was busy with facebook. The fast cuts caught my eye and I saw a surprising name: Deepika Padukone.

To my great surprise, I enjoyed the movie, because it was, essentially, a Bollywood movie. Heightened, goofy, not taking itself seriously, full of quips and one-liners, elaborate double-crosses and faked deaths. Not long after the opening credits, the main character showed off his cool life while a catchy song played. That Padukone was in the film helped too, of course.

And you could play “Dhoom Again” over the end credits and it would fit perfectly.

The movie is goofy and violent, full of testosterone. The basic plot is one of “getting the old team back together for one last mission, oh and who we thought was the good guy is actually a bad guy.” I have garbage tastes, though, and I love that kind of thing.

As a result, I’m sure, of trying to appeal to foreign markets, the cast is diverse, including four female characters and many POC. The star is a white man, but most of the people around him are not. And the woman and POC are experts in their field, competent, and given the chance to save the day. The movie even passes the Bechdel test.

Of course, the camera does pan over Padukone’s body lovingly, revealing her thigh-high boots, mini-skirt and crop top.

Is the movie feminist? Maybe in a third wave way. Each woman gets a chance to be awesome and none are used as bait or invariably captured. But Padukone’s character, as well as one played by Nina Dobrev, are attracted to Vin Diesel’s Xander Cage. Padukone, Dobrev, and Ruby Rose, are all dressed as various male fantasies: sex pot, nerd girl, and alternative chick, respectively. Padukone mentions climbing the Millennium Wheel naked. Dobrev is flustered when she meets Diesel and talks about her safe word.

Padukone’s character doesn’t back down from a fight. Rose is a sniper intent on “evening the odds.” Dobrev is a brilliant scientist. Toni Collette’s Marke is a tough, icy CIA agent.

Often my complaint about these kinds of movies, such as Happy New Year, is that there aren’t enough women, and that for most of the characters, there’s no reason they must be played by a male actor. So I really enjoyed seeing so many women.

The movie was a box office failure in the US, but did well internationally, particularly in China. I hope the diverse cast will be replicated in future films. xXx: Return of Xander Cage is silly fun. As someone who enjoys these kinds of movies, I’m thrilled there’s finally one “for me,” full of cool ladies doing cool shit.

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Categorised in: Bollywood Adjacent, Movie Reviews

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