This Friday, 20 January, sees the release of ‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage,’ third film in the extreme sports spy series, and the first time Vin Diesel has played the title role since the 2002 original (Ice Cube took over for the 2005 sequel, and will also appear in the new one).
Diesel is of course no stranger to sequels, having reprised ‘Pitch Black’ anti-hero Riddick twice, and most famously his ‘Fast & Furious’ role Dominic Toretto on six occasions (including the upcoming ‘Fast & Furious 8,’ and his brief cameo in third film ‘Tokyo Drift’). But never before has he returned to a character after quite so long a period of time.
A 12 year gap between movies – and a 15 year gap between performances for the leading man – is substantial, but Diesel certainly isn’t the only action star to return to a signature role after upwards of a decade. Much as with remakes and reboots, long-delayed sequels are almost always controversial, and in many instances they don’t quite manage to live up to their predecessors; but sometimes they retain just enough of the old charm to satisfy – and in some rare cases, they might even surpass what went before.
While we wait to see which camp ‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ falls into, here are some late action sequels which proved worth waiting for.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
I’ll be honest, I’m cheating a little in classing this 2012 follow-up to 1992’s ‘Universal Soldier’ as a long-delayed sequel, as it’s actually the fourth film in the series and arrived only three years after third entry ‘Universal Soldier: Regeneration.’ However, ‘Day of Reckoning’ really can’t be overlooked, as it’s quite probably the most unexpectedly sophisticated, inventive and intense action sequel ever made.
Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren reprise their roles of Luc Deveraux and Andrew Scott, Vietnam veterans resurrected as seemingly indestructible ‘UniSol’ cyber-soldiers, but the real lead is British martial arts master Scott Adkins (recently seen in ‘Doctor Strange’) as a soldier whose life is torn apart when the UniSols murder his wife and child. He embarks on a quest for vengeance, but his experiences soon lead him to question the nature of not only the situation, but reality itself.
Forget the corniness of the original; forget any preconceptions you might have about straight-to-DVD sequels. Director John Hyams created something genuinely distinctive and surprising with this one, and it’s well worth seeing even if you’re not a fan of the series.
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Landing in cinemas 11 years after James Cameron’s esteemed ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day,’ this sequel carried a weight of expectation on its shoulders, but no real connection to its predecessors except for Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was divisive at the time, and remains divisive now – but surely most fans can agree it’s easily the best post-Cameron ‘Terminator’ film.
Whereas subsequent sequels ‘Salvation’ and ‘Genisys’ got bogged down in trying to develop the mythology in a too-clever-for-their-own-good way, ‘T3’ director Jonathan Mostow seems primarily concerned with making a rollicking thrill-ride, which is surely a preferable approach. Linda Hamilton is sorely missed, but Nick Stahl is a fine fit for the adult John Connor and is ably supported by Claire Danes, whilst Kristanna Lokken makes for a decent adversary as the TX.
As for Schwarzenegger – aside from a few ill-advised gags (“talk to the hand”), it’s like he never left the part. Indeed, some might say it’s too bad the ‘Terminator’ series didn’t end here. And speaking of endings, there aren’t many action blockbusters which have had the guts to go out on such a down-note as this one.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny
15 years had passed since Ang Lee’s groundbreaking martial arts epic ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ when this follow-up film, directed by legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, went direct to Netflix in 2016. While it’s disappointing that it bypassed cinemas, and that its only link with the 2001 original is lead actress Michelle Yeoh, this is still a worthwhile sequel.
Yeoh reprises her role as lone swordswoman Shu Lien, who is once again called upon to protect the legendary sword Green Destiny following the death of its current custodian. But as ever, many unsavoury types covet the sword, notably the vicious warlord Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee), so Shu Lien must amass a band of noble warriors to help keep the powerful sword safe.
There’s no denying that ‘Sword of Destiny’ lacks the emotional weight and the cinematic eye of Ang Lee’s original, and at times it feels less like a sequel than a direct remake; for instance, Harry Shum Jr. and Natasha Liu Bordizzo play characters hugely reminiscent of Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen in the first film. It’s also a little bewildering that the film was shot in English, when the original was in Mandarin. Still, there’s also no denying that Yuen Woo-ping knows martial arts action better than anyone, so as a pure visceral spectacle this sequel is hard to fault.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Yes, I said it! This 2008 sequel, which arrived 19 years after previous installment ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,’ has long been a bit of a whipping boy in film fandom, inspiring laundry lists of complaints: sci-fi, nuked fridges, CGI gophers, Shia. But while I’ll concur it’s easily the weakest of the four films, it’s still Indiana Jones, for crying out loud – and that can only ever be a good thing.
It was always a risky move to catch up with the adventuring archaeologist two decades later, battling commies instead of Nazis, teaming up with the son he never knew he had in search of a relic unlike anything he’s gone after before; and without a doubt, not all of ‘Crystal Skull’s risks pay off. It was also a misstep to team up Indy, generally at his best as a loner, with such an excessive amount of hangers-on.
But once again: it’s still Indiana Jones, and even at 64 years of age, Harrison Ford is every inch the action hero he ever was, even if not everything around him quite measures up. Based on this and ‘The Force Awakens,’ we should have every confidence that, even in his 70s, Ford’s still up to the task of playing Indy one more time, with the as-yet untitled fifth film scheduled for summer 2019.
Rambo (AKA John Rambo/Rambo IV)
Two years after reviving his other signature role in ‘Rocky Balboa’ (not counted here as, the boxing notwithstanding, ‘Rocky’ isn’t really an action franchise), Sylvester Stallone brought the 80s action icon kicking and screaming into the 21st century, a full two decades after previous installment ‘Rambo III.’ The results were so extreme, even devotees of the bullet-riddled franchise were taken aback.
While Stallone had reportedly contemplated bringing back Rambo to battle Al Qaeda following 9/11 (thank goodness he thought better of that), ‘Rambo’ puts the Vietnam veteran into more familiar south-east Asian jungle terrain – this time around, the troubled Burma. After 20 years in the shadows, Rambo is snapped back into killing machine mode when a group of American missionaries are captured by bloodthirsty militants. Though he’s accompanied by a band of mercenaries, make no mistake – he’s still a one-man army.
You may have noticed the word ‘bloodthirsty’ just there – and boy, is that ever an adequate summation of ‘Rambo.’ The body count outnumbers the first three films put together, and the sheer level of carnage, brutality and bloodshed is head and shoulders above anything else Stallone has ever made. It may be a tad bit distasteful to use this spectacle for entertainment given the very real atrocities committed in Burma – but when was the Rambo series ever in good taste?
Earning a special place in the history books as the final film in which action legend Jackie Chan performed all his own stunts, this 2012 adventure – also written and directed by its leading man – is the third installment in the ‘Armour of God’ series, arriving 21 years after previous installment ‘Armour of God II: Operation Condor,’ and sees Jackie reprise the role of treasure hunter Asian Condor (or JC as they call him here; no prizes for guessing what that might stand for).
Tasked with tracking down twelve bronze heads of animals from the Chinese zodiac which were looted centuries earlier, JC and his (noticeably younger) team pose as journalists and head around the world in search of the lost antiquities, picking up new colleagues but also making new enemies along the way.
The action isn’t quite on a par with the first two movies, and the plot is a trifle over-complicated, but this is the best example of Jackie’s signature kung fu comedy style that we’ve seen from him in some time. Even at 58, the action master (who infamously came close to death on the original ‘Armour of God’) still swoops, dives and darts across rooftops and narrow ledges in as eye-popping a fashion as in his youth.
Will ‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’ also be worth the wait? Find out when it opens in UK cinemas this Friday, 20 January.