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xXx - What I have in mind, is a more anarchistic franchise



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… and counting.

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 London’s Dorchester Hotel two days before the film’s 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 didn’t relate to him. I was entertained by him, but I couldn’t 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 didn’t 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 doesn’t want to be a spy, so he doesn’t have the plaques on his wall, and he’s 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 his goal."

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 don’t want a template which you can predict, so there’ll be nobody coming back, really, but Xan. It won’t 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 I’m trying to do is make a franchise where xXx is a state of mind, cos you know you’re gonna go to the movie, and you’re going to see Vin, but you’re going to see a world, and that world is chaotic and exciting and different… and you’re 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. I’m not making fun of that, but that’s 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 we’ve 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, here’s our frame of reference, let’s tweak the nose here, let’s 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 year’s 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 challenging roles.

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