2020’s summer blockbuster season has been put on hold because of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the movies from the past that we flocked out of the sun and into air conditioning for. Welcome to The Ringer’s Return to Summer Blockbuster Season, where we’ll feature different summer classics each week.
It can be hard to separate Vin Diesel—swole thespian, the man of many grumbles—from the characters played by Vin Diesel. The movie star’s public persona feels as larger-than-life as anyone he plays on-screen; the fact that, in the past decade, he’s almost exclusively starred in blockbusters only heightens that feeling. He is a blockbuster. But in the midst of all his big-budget ass-kicking—lest we forget he’s also lent his voice to the lovable Groot, and prior to that the Iron Giant—we kind of underestimate how different some of Diesel’s starring roles can be.
Take two of his most iconic characters: Dominic Toretto of the Fast & Furious franchise, and Xander Cage of XXX. These guys are impossibly cool, and both seem to exist in an alternate universe where the laws of physics don’t apply to them, but Diesel isn’t double-dipping in the blockbuster pool. These guys are—and I’m being totally serious here—pretty distinct, and if they ever had a chance to meet, I don’t think Xander and Dom would vibe well because of competing life philosophies. Don’t believe me? Take it from the mouth of Diesel.
Granted, unless the XXX and Fast & Furious franchises pulled a Gemini Man—to be clear, would watch—chances are we’ll never get to find out what’d happen if Xander and Dom were to meet. (The universe would collapse into itself? Tank-top sales would go through the roof?) But in the spirit of life’s enduring mysteries, let’s imagine that Dom actually entered the Xander Zone: Who would prevail as the superior action hero? It’s time to test some Diesel Fuel in eight key categories.
If Vin Diesel is anything like these two characters in real life, I imagine he wakes up every morning, opens up his closet, and chooses from a tasteful selection of tank tops. Both Xander and Dom like adhering to the Sleeveless Principle: It seems anything that obscures their biceps will simply get in the way of performing extreme stunts and/or street racing. Dom perhaps takes this philosophy to another level. Our dude wore a white tank top to his own wedding.
That’s a true commitment to the bit, and must be respected. But Xander brings an X-factor (XXX-factor?) outside of his tank tops. He is just as devoted to a ridiculous fur coat, for reasons not entirely explained. It is so lush, so exotic, you half expect the thing to crawl away when he takes it off. Vin Diesel is probably the only human on the planet who can actually pull this look off.
Xander has another cool moniker in his favor: the XXX tattoo on the back of his neck that is named after the NSA operation that turns thrill-seekers into super spies. (Yes, you must pretend the NSA would recruit Bam Margera to infiltrate Russian organizations.) Dom, meanwhile, is enamored of the silver cross pendant he uses to symbolize his marriage to Letty and his larger devotion to #Family—but gnarly tattoos are always going to have an advantage over a necklace as long as the ink isn’t on Shia LaBeouf’s chest.
Verdict: Xander Cage’s fur coat runs circles around Dom’s attire, which simply can’t edge out such a unique flex. You can pluck 10 dudes from the Jersey Shore wearing the exact same fit as Dom; you can’t say the same for Xander’s coat, which is so grandiose that it’s probably on PETA’s radar.
Drink of Choice
Here’s a question that keeps me up at night: Is Xander Cage straightedge? While he admits to getting shit-faced with the anarchist group he’s infiltrating in the first XXX, Xander otherwise has a standard drink order: cranberry club soda. The lack of consistency in the Xander Zone is what’s puzzling.
But while I do appreciate that the martini order of the extreme-sports answer to James Bond is knowingly bland, Dom keeps it real from the very first Fast & Furious movie. “You can have any brew you want, as long as it’s a Corona.”
Dom’s enduring love of/shameless commitment to Corona product placement—surpassed only by his commitment to family—has made the beer synonymous with the Fast franchise. You can’t make the same argument that Xander Cage has cornered the cranberry club soda market, if such a thing is even possible.
Verdict: I salud mi familia with a Corona. This one goes to Dom.
Let’s face it: Both characters say cornball things, but Vin Diesel delivers the lines with such charm and sincerity that they transcend their goofiness. Dom’s best one-liners in the Fast franchise typically revolve around two things: the importance of family, and his philosophy behind the wheel of a car. To combine two of Dom’s most iconic quotes: You should live your life a quarter-mile at a time while never turning your back on family.
Xander has more variety in his one-liner repertoire. As a playful send-up of James Bond tropes—a long-standing franchise that also loves its one-liners—Xander gets more mileage out of his cheesy lines, like when he blows a bad guy up with a heat-seeking rocket in XXX and says, “I told him that cigarette would kill him one of these days.” Or, there’s my personal favorite from the first film: “I like anything fast enough to do something stupid in.” The closest thing Xander has to a repeated gag in his two movies is joking about the things he’ll do for his country. (Hint: In Return of Xander Cage, that “thing” is having sex with several women.)
Verdict: You know exactly what you’re gonna get with Dom: His obsession with family is becoming its own inside joke for the franchise. But whether he’s talking about how video games are the best education we’ve got or extolling the virtues of fresh powder, Xander keeps us on our toes. In Dom’s defense, he’s been in way more movies than Xander—nevertheless, we have to give this one to X.
Verdict: I can understand the words coming out of Xander’s mouth 90 percent of the time; even the world’s most talented lip readers can’t say the same for the mumbly enigma known as Dom.
It’s tricky to separate these two characters when it comes to impossible feats. Both Dom and Xander have done improbable things in the sky—Dom skydived in a muscle car; Xander survived jumping out of an exploding plane without his own parachute—and both seem impervious to things that would kill even the raddest of real dudes.
That’s why context is important: In the world of XXX, Xander Cage is a legend. He makes a living doing extreme sports and performing death-defying stunts; he’s cool enough that Tony Hawk parties at his pad. When Xander created his own avalanche and snowboarded through it in XXX, that made no fucking sense. But the vibe is clear: He’s supposed to be the best of the best.
Conversely, Dom begins The Fast and the Furious as a petty thief and accomplished street racer—by no means a slouch, but not the kind of person that screams “basically a superhero.” Fast-forward a few more movies, though, and Dom is robbing a Brazilian drug lord by stealing his vault of money, driving through multiple giant skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi, ramming a car into a helicopter while not sustaining any brain damage, and, most recently, fighting off a Russian nuclear submarine. Dom has now transcended this mortal plane.
Verdict: Dom, by more than a quarter-mile.
Both Xander and Dom made surprisingly seamless pivots from their “day jobs”—extreme sports, street racing, etc.—into being renowned spies. (Dom is technically not a spy, but that hasn’t stopped government agent Kurt Russell from constantly enlisting Dom and his team’s services for serious international incidents.) Both have saved the world. And both are practically invincible in a fight.
For the Fast franchise, it’s essentially a rule that Dom can’t lose a fight—which explains how he can brawl with a rogue British spy in a parking lot or take on a Russian sub and not get absolutely wrecked. Xander’s skills are perhaps more limited, because he does his best work when incorporating a snowboard (i.e., the avalanche scene in XXX), a dirt bike (i.e., taking out bad guys with a front wheel in Return of Xander Cage), or some other ability from his extreme sports background.
That makes Xander’s fighting skills slightly more realistic—although trying to make a compelling argument that one of these heroes is more realistic than the other might be harder than trying to explain how Emperor Palpatine is alive in The Rise of Skywalker.
Verdict: In the spirit of Vin Diesel never wanting to lose fights on-screen, we’ll give them a tie.
Are They Going to Outer Space?
Neither Dom nor Xander have entered the final frontier. But for the Fast franchise, it should be a matter of when, not if. (In fact, Ludracris already implied the crew is headed to space in the next movie.) There are only so many more things Dom and his team can defeat on our planet—Fast 9 is already pitting the family against magnet planes and whatever necromancy was involved to bring Han back from the dead. All we need is for cyber hacker Charlize Theron to build a station on the moon so that Dom can retrofit his Dodge Charger R/T for spaceflight.
Verdict: PLEASE SEND DOMINIC TORETTO TO SPACE ASAP.
You want to spend time with the guy who, once you’ve vibed for a bit, considers you part of his family, right? Xander has more of a lone wolf quality to him—the closest thing he might have to family are other members of the XXX program. (That includes, for some reason, soccer star Neymar.)
But we have to reckon with something a little uncomfortable for a second: Dom’s kind of a bad hang? He’s so self-serious and full of pathos—his obsession with family and his fear of something bad happening to them makes it very hard for him to live in the moment. You can barely strike a conversation with him before the subject turns back to family. Like, I get it man, family is important, but for fuck’s sake, can we talk about the Dodgers game or something?
Xander loves video games and has way more charisma, which is something Dom’s lacked since the first film. As long as you’ve got a cranberry club soda on deck, Xander’s the guy.
Verdict: I’m turning my back on family. I’d much rather hang with Xander Cage.
With four category wins to three—plus a tie in fighting ability— Xander Cage has come out as the superior action hero to Dominic Toretto. This was all a subjective exercise, and yet I think the reasoning was sound enough that there are no serious holes in our Diesel Data.
So why does it feel so … wrong? What is this sinking feeling in my stomach? Is this what Dwayne Johnson feels like? To betray Dom, even in the realm of blogging, is to break Toretto Familia Rule No. 1. I deserve to have my Corona privileges revoked. I just have a feeling: I can’t will myself to go against Dom. I have been brainwashed by his weird mumble-growling, his fast cars, and his way-too-tight tank tops. Dom is a relationship that’s been going strong for nearly two decades; the Xander Zone is a fleeting adrenaline rush.
Therefore, I must call an audible. Xander Cage might be a better hang and have a nickname that requires setting your browser to private, but Dominic Toretto is the one true king of Diesel-dom. He is the Zeus of NOS; the Socrates of supercharged cars; the lord responsible for making whole theaters filled with frat bros cry.
I’m sorry for ever doubting you Dom. Family sticks together.