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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Soundtrack Review: xXx Return of Xander Cage

xXx: Return of Xander Cage - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack delivers a bold sound for a great action flick.

Review by Matt Cummings

If you missed the surprisingly entertaining xXx: Return of Xander Cage, you weren't alone. As of this post it's only made $37m from an $85m budget, which doesn't bode well for a four-quel. But it's a great ride, filled with incredible stunts and some memorable one-liners, even if it feels like Actor Vin Diesel is putting together another Fast & Furious family of xXx-ers. Composer Bryan Tyler and Robert Lydecker's score for the film is also another bright spot, filled with plenty of muscular tracks which makes the movie a Must-See instead of a Forget-Me-Not.

Although Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) has been out of the NSA for 12 years, his former boss Augustus Gibbons boss (Samuel L. Jackson) has been busy recruiting for the xXx program anyways. But that doesn't mean the bruising baldy doesn't still enjoy the rush of liberating cable television to the masses of the Dominican Republic. But any celebration is soon extinguished, when a new threat uses a cutting-edge technology to turn satellites into giant weapons by hurtling them onto major cities. one of them apparently kills Gibbons, forcing his associate Marke (Toni Collette) to bring Cage back in to find said tech. But he'll need a team that's strictly off the books, which includes a sharpshooter (Ruby Rose), a sexually-submissive techie (Nina Dobrev), and a thrill-seeking psychopath (Rory McCann), who all could be as dangerous as the baddies themselves. They include a high-flying killer (Donnie Yen) and a stylish assassin (Deepika Padukone), both of whom share a dark connection with Cage. As lines are drawn and the action ramps up, Cage must decide whether these bad guys and their associates (including Tony Jaa) represent a real risk, or if the true villain might be right under his nose.

Tyler, a journeyman composer for both television (Hawaii Five-O) and film (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Furious 7), quickly settles into a 'sound' for Cage, mixing cinematic electronic orchestrations with thick dub-step on songs like the opening track The Return of Xander Cage and Track 4's Windfall. Even a setup track like Carte Blanche moves with a sense of purpose, taking us right into Launched, which is actually more than its big Bond-like electronic orchestrations. Lydecker has a fairly deep collaboration history with Tyler, working with him on Ultron but also Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Iron Man 3, as well as several video games. That relationship pays off again, as the duo mix horns, violins, electronic guitar, chimes (yes, and it works as well), and sound effects while keeping the message simple: this is Xander's world we're delving into, which is bigger than it's ever been. Such an expansion of shooting locations and an intriguing worldwide cast requires a wider sound, and that's just what we get. There's nothing small or meager here, and I'm just fine with that.

xXx produces a variety of sounds from Tyler and Lydecker. They're not afraid to experiment, nor are they worried about what they'll find when they push those boundaries. That spirit pays off while keeping the message focused on our heroes. Listen to a track like #12's Evolution for proof: it starts off with a club-dub moment before moving back into that consummate Tyler orchestration which moves effortlessly between dark and elegant. Track 15's Battle of the X's does something similar, moving us through different beats and environments without losing us in the process. I also love #16's Not So Special Forces as Xander Cage is actually given a theme on which to ride his skateboard and bad-ass GTO which arrives near film's end. Make sure you also check out the awesome xXx Incorporated, which takes a mostly electronic ride.

Varèse Sarabande Records delivers an expertly-mixed experience that should play well in earbuds, your car, or in front of a high-end home system. These 21 tracks are ready for whatever you throw at it, as many of these have already found their way into my newest soundtrack playlist.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is an integral part of what makes this film so enjoyable. Just like Diesel's desire to produce a big over-the-top action film, Tyler and Lydecker deliver a thoroughly enjoyable ride for the ears. It's too bad audiences haven't dropped back into Cage's world so far, but don't let that keep you from picking up the score. It's an early entry into my Best-Of for 2017, and I'll be revisiting this one often as we gear up for a potentially great year of scores.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is already available digitally and will arrive on CD on February 17, 2017.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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