Feature by: Jack Foley
IT IS a brave man who takes on the James Bond franchise and wins.
Many have tried, but most have failed.
The biggest successes have come in the form of tongue-in-cheek
parodies (such as True Lies or Austin
Powers), but few could even dream of launching a franchise
that could spawn 20 movies and last 40 years
It was little wonder, therefore, that so many eyebrows were raised
when The Fast
and the Furious director, Rob Cohen, and its star, Vin Diesel,
announced that they were going to deliver a new kind of secret
agent, and with it, a new franchise, in the form of xXx.
For while Xander Cage could lay claim to being different in that
he is a spy who has no interest in saving the world, the remainder
of the Bond template remained intact - from sexy, throwaway babes,
to life-saving gadgets, Q equivalents and dry quips.
The numerical 007 may have been replaced with the letter-based
Triple X, but the formula is still the same - only less subtle
and a little more extreme.
Both Cohen and Diesel are aware of the comparisons, however, and
speaking at a press conference at Londons Dorchester Hotel
two days before the films UK release (Tuesday, October 15,
2002), they promised that the xXx franchise was in no way intended
to be a mere Bond wannabe.
Cohen explains: "When we were planning the opening of the
film, the idea was to make the American agent in the tuxedo as
conspicuous as a tarantula on a wedding cake, hence the idea of
setting it at a Rammstein concert, which is a crazy, theatrical
and exciting band whose music is very good and interesting in
terms of the energy it invokes.
"This sort of planted the flag of xXx right in the first
scene - you know, that there is a need for a new agent, because
there is a world where there are new villains."
It is a feeling that Diesel totally agrees with, despite having
grown up watching the James Bond films of Sean Connery and Roger
Moore as a kid.
"I loved James Bond when I was a growing up, but I remember,
when watching, that I still didnt relate to him. I was entertained
by him, but I couldnt identify with him," he explained.
"It was not like this guy had been at school for 12 years,
getting a Masters in spy technology.
"It didnt feel like I could really fit his shoes. One
of the interesting things about xXx, and one of the interesting
things about the way that Rob enrolled me, was the idea of having
an original take on this spy genre, that had been monopolised
by James Bond; to come up with another kind of spy.
"The first thing that attracted me to the character, was
the fact that he doesnt want to be a spy, so he doesnt
have the plaques on his wall, and hes not the head of his
class. There was something about it that felt universal for me,
maybe because it was post-September 11, and because we all had
a feeling of frustration
"What if you had taken a guy
that would be the least likely to be heroic and then go into a
film and, in the first act, making him understand the point of
heroism and then, throughout the film, have him trying to achieve
It was with this in mind, that both Cohen and Diesel went about
creating the franchise, turning their backs on a possible Fast
and the Furious sequel, and setting about creating the potential
for at least two or three Xander Cage movies.
Cohen elaborates: "What I have in mind is a more anarchistic
franchise. I dont want a template which you can predict,
so therell be nobody coming back, really, but Xan. It wont
be Gibbons calls, we have another mission, there are some more
freaky people out there, come back and help your country.
"I have two scripts in development; one takes place in South
East Asia and involves the Malacca Straits pirates and the other
takes place in Washington DC, where, I think, our most colourful
character will go up against all the grey men.
"I can see him mountain-biking on the top of the Capitol
Dome, where in a domestic context, as opposed to an exotic context,
he gets to shake up old George Bush and all that he represents.
"What Im trying to do is make a franchise where xXx
is a state of mind, cos you know youre gonna go to the movie,
and youre going to see Vin, but youre going to see
a world, and that world is chaotic and exciting and different
and youre never going to know exactly how the adventure
is going to unfold.
"It will not be the pro forma steps of the old opening, where
the villain blows up the damn and Bond gets to see M. Im
not making fun of that, but thats a template and you know
the form. I even used the form in this one, because I thought
the franchise could not possibly get launched without a set of
references that weve all come to know and love.
"You cannot underestimate the power and the importance of
a 40-year franchise (20 movies). It is clearly the most successful
film franchise ever and I expect the new one to be no different.
"So my starting point was to say, okay, heres our
frame of reference, lets tweak the nose here, lets
turn it inside out a bit and hope the amalgamation of all these
decisions might be that we landed into a new territory."
And the decision looks to have paid off at the Box Office, even
if xXx failed to win over a lot of the US critics.
Audiences, State-side, helped Diesel to record his highest opening
so far for a film (a cool $46 million), helping its distributor,
Sony, to a record-breaking year and rocketing past the $100 million
benchmark set for the years biggest successes.
The challenge, now, is for xXx to continue as a profitable franchise,
to live up to the plans Cohen clearly has for it and - perhaps
more tellingly - for Diesel to continue balancing the physical
demands of such an action role with his search for other, more