2002 rewatch: XXX brought extreme fury to the spy thriller

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2002 rewatch: XXX brought extreme fury to the spy thriller

Every week, Entertainment Weekly is looking back at the biggest movies of the summer of 2002. As audiences struggled to understand the new post-9/11 world order, Hollywood found itself in a moment of transition, with upcoming stars and soon-to-be-forever franchises playing alongside startling new visions and fading remnants of the old normal. Join us for a rewatch of the first true summer of Hollywood's strange new millennium. Last week: Signs of life from M. Night Shyamalan. This week: Leah Greenblatt and Darren Franich go skyboarding through XXX. Next week: Hit the North Shore in Blue Crush.

LEAH: 2002, Darren, what a time to be alive! What an X-treme time: We had the X-Games, a.k.a. the dirtbag Olympics for skaters and motorcross racers, and Pibb X-tra, the “bold” alternative to Coca-Cola. And of course we had XXX, which was essentially positioned as the Gen-X answer to James Bond, starring Vin Diesel as an extreme — there's that word again — sports enthusiast turned reluctant super-spy named (what else) Xander Cage.

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Xander is a man's man, man: just a guy who loves “cars, boards, bikes — anything fast enough to do something stupid in.” Will he steal a Senator's Corvette and BASE-jump it off a bridge? Yep yep. Free-fall from an airplane on a snowboard just to start an avalanche? If he must. Paraglide into a Czechoslovakian river in order to redirect a biochemical weapon and save the world? Spoiler! It's done, son. The Corvette business, actually, is what gets him recruited in the first place: Samuel L. Jackson's face-scarred NSA agent Augustus Gibbons clocks Xander's carjacking, bridge-sailing skills and decides that the American government could use someone like him to take on a rogue band of Eastern European terrorists called Anarchy 99. Or as Gibbons puts it to a nonplussed room of bureaucrats, “Do we want to drop another mouse in the snake pit? Or do we want to send our own snake and let him crawl in?”

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