A Lackluster (Temporary) End to a Character

The Final Chapter: The Death of Xander Cage

Killing a named character should be a big deal. While media will make any number of nameless characters (background characters played by extras) just so they can be used as fodder for disasters and climactic events, named characters are generally treated differently. A named character needs to be given a good death, if they’re going to die, and it has to feel like it means something. The worst thing that can be done is to kill a character, off screen, for no reason. Or, worse, to do it for spiteful reasons. A spiteful death feels worse than no death at all.

The death of Xander Cage in the xXx series was absolutely spiteful (of course, it was also later retconned out, but we’ll address that when we discuss the third movie). Vin Diesel walked away from a sequel to xXx when negotiations over the script broke down (director Rob Cohen, who handled the first movie, also left the project at that point as well). Instead of simply saying, “Xander is off on another mission,” or, “Xander retired,” or, hell, “Xander is in hiding,” in sequel xXx: State of the Union, the decision was made to kill his character off. A short film was made to deal with the situation, The Final Chapter: The Death of Xander Cage, and, yeah, this is an exceptionally petty death. If this had been released before the movie came out (instead of as a pack in on the Director’s Cut DVD) I could have seen this turning off a ton of fans in the lead up to the sequel (not that most of them showed up for xXx: State of the Union, regardless).

The short film, (running for just over four minutes) sees Xander (played, in bad example of “fake shemping”, by Vin Diesel's stunt double Khristian Lupo) drive up to an apartment building with current bootycall Jordan Kin (Leila Arcieri, who apparently also appeared in the previous film, even if no one would remember that). He has an errand to handle, leaving Jordan in the car for a few minutes, although she does note that she has a hotel booked with a hot oil massage (and she promises very sexy things if hot oil is your thing).

Before things can get hot and heavy in the car, though, Xandder hears a noise and runs off, uzi drawn, to investigate in an alley. While gone, agents from the group looking to overthrow the government in the sequel drive up, taking Jordan but leaving her fur coat behind. Xander doesn’t find anything in the alley but a homeless man, so he comes back, finding her fur coat and assuming (stupidly) that she went up into the apartment building so they could have sex (because, despite the hotel, apparently she just wants it now). He runs up, the building explodes, and then his coat, and the flap of skin with his xXx tattoo, hit the ground outside the building. Xander is dead, and everyone moves on.

There are multiple issues with this short film, and we’re going to go over all of them (because we’re writing a full article for a tiny segment of video, so we have to fill for time), but the first might seem like a small thing. Xander, in xXx: State of the Union, is said to have died in Bora Bora (the tiny island nation he wanted to retire in at the end of the first film). And yet, the short film depicts him in the middle of a city that looks suspiciously like it’s in an Eastern European country. This is a continuity issue that is hard to ignore. Sure, we can dismiss it if we want, but considering I was the kind of person to seek out this crappy short film just to watch it for this site, I want the continuity of all associated materials to line up.

Once we move past this issue, let’s address the fact that despite Xander being the character that supposedly dies in this film, we never see his face. Sure, this is because the producers wanted to definitively kill off Xander, but without having Diesel around they couldn’t actually show the character dying properly. He’s always depicted from the back of the head, or a side profile half covered up, or it’s just his lips as he whispers to his girl. We never properly see him (because we can’t) which means, despite this supposedly being the definitive end for the character… it wasn’t.

This, naturally, was the exact loophole the next film would use (which, again, we’ll address over there as well). Without being able to see if it was the real Xander Cage fans could easily say, “maybe it wasn’t him. Maybe this was all a ruse.” So when Vin Diesel came back to the role, this petty and stupid death could easily be rolled back because, of course, we never actually saw Xander die. We saw someone that looked like him from the back, and the side, and from a distance. We saw someone that wore his coat and dated a girl he once knew. We don’t, though, actually see him.

The short is actually really petty about it, too. Sure, xXx: State of the Union went out of its way to say Xander died, but this short has to make that explicit. Instead of just saying he was gone, the short makes sure that we see Xander (or his body double as we have to assume now) go into the building, and then the explosion sends a large chunk of skin, the back of his neck along with both his ears, somehow, onto the street just so we can see the tattoo and have a character from the sequel go, “you never had much between your ears.” Petty, bitchy, like a slam from a mean girl. It’s just so dumb.

I’m not saying that killing Xander off was the right idea, but if they were going to do it they should have produced a better version of this sequence in the actual film. They could have done a version in Bora Bora, with Khristian Lupo (as Xander) relaxing at his little island hut before guys with guns come up, shooting at him before the hut he’s hiding in explodes. While that wouldn’t have conclusively killed the character (since it would always have been a body double for Diesel and not the actual actor) it would have lined up better with continuity and made it feel far less petty. Plus, that would have been a kick ass way to start the sequel off. “This was the ultimate agent, and now he’s dead.”

Instead Xander dies off screen in the sequel, and his actual death was treated as little more than a low-budget DVD extra. At that point why even bother filming this at all. This was released in 2005, and while there were plenty of sources for online video sharing at that point (including the freshly-started YouTube that same year), this kind of ancillary material for a film wasn’t yet the norm then. The sequel addressed why Xander wasn’t around (he died) and that was that. The off screen death was lame, yes, but the film quickly moves on and so do we as members of the audience. We have a new story, a new hero, and it’s time to go on our way. This short pulls us back after we’ve already moved on and said, “no, you have to care about this death… but we also want it to be spiteful.” It makes no sense from any logical perspective. It would have been better to simply not do this at all.

The Final Chapter: The Death of Xander Cage is a petty, stupid, poorly made short that wasn’t really needed. xXx: State of the Union could have simply not killed Xander, or it could have done so and just moved on. But the producers went a different route, the ruder, bitchier path, and in the process they made a short that would piss off all the fans. Anyone that liked the first xXx and somehow enjoyed the sequel and stuck around would probably be annoyed by this short. It doesn’t give us anything we didn’t already know, and then it was promptly ignored by the next flick. It’s just a waste of time all around.