Review: Riddick

Spoilers

Trailer

Vin Diesel is back in one of his most iconic roles.

Vin Diesel is back in one of his most iconic roles.

Now this is one that I have been waiting for, for a while.

This will probably sound a little bit strange, but the Riddick franchise actually means something to me. Like many others I really enjoyed Pitch Black, finding it an interesting blend of science fiction and horror, which also managed to create a fairly enthralling main character with the minimum amount of work. It featured some excellent dialogue and set-pieces, and offered an ending that was thought-provoking, and did all of that with a very limited budget.

Fast forward a few years, and then we get The Chronicles of Riddick. The wholesale swing towards epic science fiction, more in line with Star Wars than the more intense, personal experience that Pitch Black was, meant that Chronicles has its fair share of detractors.

But man, I loved it. I thought the universe creation was excellent, I thought the CGI was brilliant, I thought the continuing evolution of Riddick was great, the cast was fantastic (seriously, tot up the Shakespearian back catalogue of some of them, you’d be surprised) and generally I just appreciated that the production team had done their damndest to make a new, unique science fiction franchise.

More than any of that though, Chronicles was one of the very first movies, probably along with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, where I was genuinely interested in the behind the scenes process. David Twohy and others, through documentaries and commentaries, taught me a lot about movie editing, ratings issues, the use of music to create emotion, dialogue choices, set creation and just how to design a film.

And then there is Riddick himself, who I genuinely believe is one of the better science fiction characters of film. Through his adventures on screen, in animation and in video games, we’ve seen a very intense, evocative and effective character, the very essence of the anti-hero. I like the Riddick character, the journey he’s been on and the sometimes large and sometimes subtle changes that have happened to him.

Connected to all that was a sense that Twohy and his star man, Vin Diesel, were just very, very committed to Riddick and his adventures. They clearly wanted to make Chronicles, were in it for more than just a paycheck, and I could appreciate that. The further proof being the new instalment, largely made due to the financial backing of its leading man. It’s nice to see such commitment.

Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel), the accomplished killer with the mysterious ability to see in the dark, finished Chronicles as the new Lord Marshal of the Necromonger horde. But now, a few years later, he finds himself betrayed by his army, and left for dead on a desolate planet. Faced with the numerous native beasts and the hostile environment, Riddick’s only chance of escape is to get the best of two groups of mercenaries who come looking for him, including the rapist Santana (Jordi Malla), tough guy Diaz (Dave Bautista), lesbian Dahl (Katee Sackhoff, and yes it’s a pertinent description) and Boss Johns (Matt Nable), seeking answers on the death of his son.

Before I say anything else about the storyline of Riddick, I cannot help but note that this is, pretty much, just 2 Pitch 2 Black. By which I mean, this movie follows many of the same beats and themes as Pitch Black, to the extent that you wonder if it was a good idea to rewind the clock back to such an extent. If you look into some of the behind the scenes details of Chronicles, you’ll see that Twohy and Diesel had an expansive trilogy in mind for the Riddick character that would have followed on from the overall feel and design of Chronicles. But the apparent failure of that movie has made them cast their eyes further back.

Diesel is as good as ever in the title role, though this offering is lifting large portions from his first adventure.

Diesel is as good as ever in the title role, though this offering is lifting large portions from his first adventure.

Only, they go too far. It isn’t just that it’s Riddick on a hostile world with vicious alien creatures that only come out at night. It isn’t just that one of his main foils is a mercenary named Johns, or that the whole thing revolves around getting on a ship to escape the planet.

No, it’s the more subtle things as well. The returning intensity of the Riddick character, the divide and conquer strategy, dragging lights around in the dark and the mirrored action beats. Riddick is treading old ground. It tries to get a new spin on some things, but in the end, you’re left with this eerie feeling that you’ve seen this all before: even Riddick notes that, just as in his adventure in Pitch Black, he has the same number of survivors to deal with, and much the same situation.

Is that a terrible, gaping flaw? To an extent. Pitch Black was a good movie, so it’s not the worst thing to return to, but part of me would have much preferred if Twohy and Diesel had tried to freshen things up a bit.

Like its illustrious predecessor, Riddick tries to blend horror and science fiction together, and I think that it mostly succeeds. The horror elements are fairly well done – Riddick travails against the scorpion-like monsters, hunting down the mercenaries one by one etc, but in truth they pretty much stray past horror and into plain old action territory after a point. Blasting away at the monsters doesn’t make it a horror movie, and the over abundance of guns here is one of the key difference from Pitch Black, when the group was struggling to make some basic lamps to light their way.

The science fiction elements are much better done, whether it is the very planet and its fauna, the high tech equipment that the mercs have, the spaceships or Riddick’s “eyeshine”. Some of the universe padding evident in Chronicles is retained here just a little bit, and I think a serviceable job was done at creating a 28th century atmosphere.

The inclusion of the Necromongers seems very rushed and forced to me. It is clear that the production pretty much wanted to draw a line underneath that whole plot arc from Chronicles and continue off in a different direction, and part of thinks just ignoring them completely would have been better. The two minute rush job to wrap up the Necromonger plot thread just does a disservice to the previous movie in my eyes, and to poor Karl Urban, brought in and decked out for his 20 or so seconds.

Perhaps if the Necromongers were used more prestigiously – trying to hunt Riddick down just like the rest of the mercs perhaps, a third faction to be dealt with – it would have been better. They went as far as actually making a new Necromonger character and giving him a name after all, it seems like there should have been a bit more for them to do. Like my general opinion of Chronicles, I thought that the Necromongers were a good concept, one that deserved more of a chance to grow, so I personally think that it’s a shame Riddick treats them the way that it does.

Instead, Riddick chooses to spend the time that could have been used to more effectively wrap up the Necromonger plotline, as a sort of survivalist thing, as Riddick reaches out to his abandoned “animal side”, and gets used to living on the world he has been dumped on. The first 20-30 minutes is nothing but Riddick on his own, facing down various monsters, looking for fresh water, eatable animals, and simply trying to survive. This segment was an interesting return for the original Riddick character, and important in emphasising his capability to survive, his toughness is facing numerous problems, and the sheer desperation of his situation. While some might have felt a bit let down by such an opening, one hardly dripping in obvious excitement or action, I thought it was a decent way to begin what is, essentially a slight reboot on behalf of the Riddick character. Twohy had to get him back to his pre-Chronicles ways, and managed to do that without an immediate killing spree. It continues throughout segments of the rest of the movie, where Riddick fights hard just to keep going, burning closed a chest wound with a molten hot rock late on before struggling into a last desperate encounter. This is a movie about Riddick battling to survive, to be the last man standing is he has to be, and that’s a good way to treat this character.

And even with this return into the previous barbarity of the character, they still manage to retain a bit of humanity that is still believable, in the form of a dog companion. I think that this is the kind of thing that would actually get a lot of snickers from an audience – it is pulling at the heartstrings in a very obvious way – but Riddick has a past with canines (the awesome looking “hell-hounds” of Chronicles) and the inclusion of the dog here allowed Vin Diesel to not just be the only one on the screen. For someone who is supposed to be descending into an “animal side” of his personality, I thought that the dog companion was a good fit. I suppose I could have done without some of the humour moments surrounding him and the “cutesy” stuff, but I didn’t find him unbearable at all.

The "Mud Demons" are an horrific adversary for Riddick and his allies to face, well created for the screen.

The “Mud Demons” are an horrific adversary for Riddick and his allies to face, well created for the screen.

Soon after though, the mercs show up, divided into two different camps. One, the kind of mercs that we are used to seeing in the Riddick franchise so far, the other, a more cleaner, slick looking military outfit. The conflict between Santana’s group and Johns’ is a key part of the next section of the plot, and I felt that it was worked well enough, establishing Santana as the somewhat unhinged, arrogant one, Johns as the more professional, confident one, and giving a few of the more minor players – like Diaz and Dahl – a little bit of personality to show off. This part of the plot does differ Riddick out from Pitch Black to an extent, with no inherent group divide in the first movie. Here, there is a conflict between the “survivors” from the very off, one that never really goes away. That added an extra elements of suspense to some of the proceedings (I liked how Diaz betrays them at the end, that fit the character and his group) and most importantly, gave the mercenaries something to do – to play off each other – other than just be a group of placeholders only after Riddick.

The inclusion of “Daddy” Johns is an interesting one. The original Johns was never a very well-fleshed out character (you’d need to play some of the prequel video games for that) so it’s a bit of a daring move to suddenly drag his presence back into things through his father. This part of the plot was hit and miss for me really. I found the idea of a father trying to hunt Riddick down just to get some answers to be a workable enough one, but not enough was done with the concept. There is a brief interrogation scene of course, that was done rather well, but in the end Riddick just drip feeds some details of Pitch Black and leaves it at that. It seems like much of Riddick’s internal momentum built along Boss Johns coming to the realisation that the title character isn’t such a bad guy after all and is worth saving – finding out what happened to his son, sort of at Riddick’s hands, should be important for that. The “revelation” of Johns’ drug addiction isn’t framed well enough for me, and seems like a mediocre way for the father figure to get to where the writers want him to be. Just why did Johns save Riddick at the conclusion? The way that the two greet each other afterwards belied greater familiarity and respect than the movie really depicted being created between them.

Riddick also has some problems with its female characters. There are the group of Necromonger babes in that flashback, who exist to, well, be naked onscreen. There is the little rape toy that Santana has on his ship, who lasts just long enough to be shot in the back. And then there is Katee Sackhoff, a character most easily defined as her sexual orientation, since she and other characters just won’t stop bringing it up. We get to see her nude as well for some reason, and the latter part of the film has this really odd and uncomfortable flirtation between herself and Riddick, with really unsubtle nods that Diesel’s character has been able to “turn” her.

Science fiction has had some lousy ways of portraying women. Just read my Star Trek Into Darkness review. And this is just an extension of it. In Riddick, women are one-note sexual playthings, damsels in distress, or butch lesbians whose entire characters and plot actions revolve around sexual imagery, dialogue and the like. I suppose you could argue that this is the universe they’ve created, one where men are in a position of dominance, but that doesn’t match up with the Radha Mitchell character in Pitch Black, or Alexa Davalos in Chronicles. What happened in Riddick with the female characters just seems lazy to me.

It’s also somewhat strange to see Riddick as a sexual character too, the Necromonger flashback implying his participation in orgies of a kind. He’s never really been portrayed in such a light, with no love interests to speak of, with only his interactions with Jack/Kira in Chronicles to mark out his involvement with women in anything approaching a positive way. There’s nothing wrong with Riddick having sex or having sexual urges, I suppose it’s just strange to only have it pop up at this point.

Riddick also has some poor pacing at times. I enjoyed the survivalist opening, but it did go on for just a little too long. Riddick is a solitary guy, but he shouldn’t be this solitary. The interactions with the dog kept it going, but the movie really only started to improve once the mercs showed up. The second act also probably goes on for a bit too long too, and I was surprised to see that this movie was nearly hitting the two hour mark – it really didn’t have enough plot for that running time. Scenes like the Johns interrogation, the whole thing with the boobytrapped locker, the venom inoculations, they all could have been slimmed down without losing much. There are also some very odd scene cuts at times, most notably in a moment where Santana appears to be about to rape Dahl, only for the narrative to cut away from that to an undefined time later where Santana is beaten and bloodied.

The ending is much the same as Pitch Black, with some question marks over what kind of state Riddick was in by the conclusion. Has the animal side been retained, or has Johns’ mercy imbued Riddick, one again, with the marks of civilisation? It’s ok for that question to remain unanswered, and I think enough was done by the credits roll to engender enough enthusiasm for another Riddick adventure.

Ultimately, I thought that the plot of Riddick was acceptable enough for the character. It gave him a stage to do the usual Riddick thing in an entertaining  way, and while none of the supporting characters were that great and it was all a little too Pitch Black in many respects, Riddick is still the same old anti-hero we know and love: threatening, capable, determined, unnerving, and utterly enthralling.

A lot of that is down to Vin Diesel of course. While he will never be acclaimed as that good of an actor, Riddick allows his strengths to shine and covers up what’s lacking. Diesel is a treat in this role, capturing well the quiet intensity of the Riddick character, the constant will to survive, and the subtle way that he is able to divide and conquer. It’s required, since Riddick is on his own for so much of the film, but I never felt that Diesel did a poor job. His green screen work with the dog was top notch, and when actual required to do some wordplay, it was delivered in the typically brilliant style that we have become accustomed too with Riddick. The wordplay might not actually have been that good, but Diesel did what he could with it.

The Necromonger's are dispensed with quickly in this outing, a result of the commercial failure of the last movie.

The Necromonger’s are dispensed with quickly in this outing, a result of the commercial failure of the last movie.

Riddick isn’t an emotive character, save for the very brief occasions, such as the death of Kira in Chronicles. Here, he’s mostly stoic and serious, except for a few brief moments, that were just the cherry on top. The genuine fear when facing the scorpion creatures for the last time for example, when even Riddick, the constant survivor, seemed about to accept his end. Vin Diesel is capable of offering that, and while he’ll presumably go back to the more low-intensity rolls like The Fast and the Furious offers, he’s proven he still has what it takes to bring Riddick to the screen.

The rest of the cast are all entirely subordinate to the title character. Though the important players all get plenty of screentime, Riddick never leaves any doubt as to who the star attraction is, and there is no real stand-out performer in the supporting cast.

Jordi Molla is Santana. He had a creepy, despicable edge to him in everything that he did, and it was almost unique to see a character who is actually a little bumbling and ineffective, but also recognisable as a creditable threat. Some of the best dark humour belonged to him, and I was satisfied with Molla’s performance, though he is probably the most guilty of the male characters of reducing Dahl to the role of “lesbian”. That fits the character of course, but it is still an overall problem with the production.

Matthew Nable is Boss Johns. Much like Cole Hauser, he does an acceptable job without ever really doing too much. His casual nature after his opening appearance is probably his best work, and some of his more shouty dialogue later fell flat for me. In the end, too much of a consummate professional to be a very memorable character, and Nable’s performance suffers from some of the plot problems that I have already mentioned.

Katee Sackhoff is Dahl. She does just fine, carrying over much of the same kind of performance that she used for her most famous role, that of Kara “Starbuck” Thrace on Battlestar Galactica. Dahl is spunky, a backtalker and a competent enough merc. The only problem is that it all revolves around her sexual orientation, which is frustrating in so many respects. There was a better character to be found here, one who was not just there to be subjected to Sanatan’s vulgar taunts or Riddick’s unsubtle innuendo.

Dave Bautista, who may or not no longer be involved with the WWE, is Diaz. While at first seeming to be little more than just a grunt, he actually got a slightly bigger part to play. Bautista brought some sombre humour, some surprisingly vicious backstabbing, and just a general three dimensionelness to Santana’s merc group: something as simple as showing him missing a shot and then joking about it later are very very important in that kind of character development, and it just marked him out.

All of the rest are fairly one note. There’s the quipy one, the religious one, the slightly older, mysterious one. None of them really get any sort of chance to be characters of their own, but I guess that’s ok. This kind of movie actually requires some chaff after all, and the running time is already too long to be adding on extra, unnecessary character development. Nolan Funk, as Luna, was probably the only one that I would have noted especially, if only because his religious ramblings got some brief focus.

Aside from that, there was Karl Urban, as previously stated, in his Necromonger get up for around 20 seconds. I really dislike those kind of cameos, that are so wasteful when it comes to the acting talent available but I suppose that, seeing as how the production team had decided to ditch the Necromongers as a problem, it was inevitable that Urban, who even has a place in the title credits, should barely got a chance to do anything other than glower.

Visually, it’s a really good production. The landscapes that are used, which I believe are somewhere in North Africa (don’t quote me) are breathtaking, accentuated brilliantly by some basic CGI work. I’ve always adored the design of the Riddick world, and Riddick is no exception. This hostile alien world is a living, breathing place, with a food chain, areas of different hue and shape and some actual weather and bio diversity. The camera work is pretty stellar too, a lot wider than Pitch Black or Chronicles, taking in as much of the surroundings as possible, be it desert or be it grasslands. Some of the locales are truly amazing, not least the big finale location, on a rocky outcropping bathed in lightning and rain.

Unlike Chronicles, there really aren’t that many sets to build, but the ones that are – from the alien-ish totem pole structures to the mercenary base – are all created with the eye for detail and unique flair that the production team behind Chronicles offered, albeit on a somewhat reduced basis.

The supporting cast ranges from surprisingly decent to almost non-existent.

The supporting cast ranges from surprisingly decent to almost non-existent.

Some good CGI can be enjoyed throughout. It’s used when it’s needed, and then not too much. The dog looks a little fake admittedly, but still feels like a living entity that Riddick can actually have a relationship – it feels like a dog in other words, even if it doesn’t quite look like a 10/10 creation. The scorpion creatures are horrific monsters, a bit more advanced then the flying beasts of Pitch Black, and have this crazy unique design, part arachnid, part Alien from Alien. There’s a gradual build-up of them too, just like Pitch Black of course, and while they may have lost a little something threat-wise by the conclusion (it gets easier to kill them the more that there are, movie rules) they still look great. They look like an alien, which is all too rare in science fiction I find.

There are some bad CGI moments too off course. There are several sequences featuring some sort of hoverbike that look particularly fake, the design not melding in at all seamlessly with the surrounding or with the humans riding them. Pitch Black had wheeled vehicles, real ones, and they looked fine in the landscape, so I think they might have just got ahead of themselves a little bit here, they weren’t required. Apart from that, the CGI ships look fairly lame, but they’re only in computerised form for a few seconds.

So what about action, which is what we’re all here for? In truth, I felt just a little bit let down. There are only a handful really, which is fine, but none of them really stood out to be, not as much as some of the action moments from the previous films. I suppose there is only so much of seeing Riddick slaughter people with ease before you’ve had enough, but here they go too far the other way at times: he gets his ass handed to him by various people and things. The Necromonger ambush just sort of made the title character look like a chump, and Riddick gets waylaid in a very unexpected fashion late on with the horn through the chest. Maybe they want to develop a sense that Riddick, too comfortable in his Lord Marshal role, was getting sloppy: mission accomplished if that was the case.

Aside from that general feeling, there was sloppiness about the action choreography, especially towards the end of the entire affair. Riddick and Johns slice their way through a horde of the scorpion creatures, but you can’t help but notice that so many of the shots are framed so that the bad guys are “off screen” which drags down the immersion just a bit. Obviously Riddick doesn’t have the budget of his immediate predecessor, and they had to get selective about what to show and what not to by the end of the plot. Beyond that, it’s your standard Riddick action fare, he sneaks up and kills people and things a lot.

How about the gore? Twohy and Diesel were, apparently, hellbent on returning to a “R” rating (which, for some reason, translates to 15s where I’m from, Ireland) and they certainly went ahead and did that. Gone is the largely bloodless and goreless experiences that was Chronicles, now we’re back with decapitations, stabbings, people getting eaten, open references to rape and torture and, most notably at all, the top of someone’s head, just above the jawline, getting cut off in spectacular fashion. I have no problems with gore, but at times it felt like Riddick was trying just a little bit too hard. I don’t need to see the interior of Santana’s skull that vividly to get the message that he died, or repeated shots of Riddick performing surgery on himself. Something as simple as one of the “little” scorpion creatures poisoning one of the mercs is just as good, or better, at bringing across a theme of horror.

Script wise, it’s a very mixed bag. In fact, the script is probably the weakest part of the production, what little there is of it. There is a large part of the movie where no one is talking, or Riddick is just talking to a CGI creation.

Large parts of it are pretty lame, action/tough guy clichés and ridiculous setting up. Like the death of Santana, where Riddick is allowed to monologue at length about everything that is going to happen for the rest of the movie before going ahead and doing it all, or the really stilted way that he later recounts the events of Pitch Black to Johns. Sure, there is the occasional brief glimpse of something better – like Santana’s “I don’t fuck guys either” as he gets ready to try and rape Dahl for example, or the ever present, but still no less awesome “It isn’t me you’ve got to be afraid of now”. It’s still good to see how Riddick is able to turn people against each other with only a sentence, but those kind of movements are just too rare really.

The Riddick movies have never been very stellar with the wordplay, except in small parts, but Riddick itself is probably the low point. It doesn’t ruin the experience at all, but when Diesel is blurting out stuff as inane as (and I’m paraphrasing only a little here) “I wanted them to talk me to Furya, but instead I wound up on not-Furya”, it gets really noticeable. Maybe if the general acting or action scenes were of a slightly higher quality this would be less noticeable, but it is very apparent throughout the running lengths. The final insult are the last lines, where Boss Johns and Riddick are verbally slapping each other on the back like they’ll old friends, the sort of really forced warmth that just makes you roll your eyes and wonder just what the hell was going through the writers heads.

The score is decent, keeping some of the traditional horn and violin themes that have characterised the musical world of Riddick thus far. However, the rather awesome, expansive score that brought Chronicles to life is no longer around, a victim of budget cuts I would imagine. That’s a shame, because I genuinely thought that it was one of the better scores that I had heard recently. What’s left is decent, but understated and underused. Sometimes the lack of music does fit things, like in the early stages when Riddick is on his own, but at other times you would be looking for just a bit of a swell.

Katee Sackhoff is a throwaway character, defined almost entirely by her sexual orientation.

Katee Sackhoff is a throwaway character, defined almost entirely by her sexual orientation.

So, themes then, something that the Riddick movies have never been short on. A common one across every movie, animation and game is the choice between civilisation and “the animal side”. In Pitch Black, Riddick opens his account by surmising that, because only “the animal side” stays alert during cyrosleep, it must be the reason he’s still awake. Pitch Black is then the story of how Riddick is convinced that it’s worth it to reject the animal side and come back to humanity, through the blind way that another human being tries to save him from the monsters. Riddick reconnects with civilisation through Imam and Jack.

The Chronicles of Riddick ran with that idea, of Riddick returning to civilisation and having to deal with numerous problems. Along the way he “loses everything”, by which he means his remaining tethers to civilisation in Imam and Jack. At the conclusion, he is thrust into the role of leader of a ghost army, a position of responsibility and leadership that is miles away from his starting point. Riddick, already sliding, chaffs under this burden.

And so we come to Riddick, where Riddick, in a powerful moment, chooses to reject civilisation once more and embraces the animal side, knowing that the anger, the pain, and the self-serving nature of it is the only thing that will see him through.

But of course, it doesn’t stay like that. Just as in Pitch Black, Riddick again finds himself on a journey towards rejoining humanity. At first, he goes about slaughtering what mercs he can. Then he joins with them out of self-interest, just as he tried to help the survivors in Pitch Black.

Then, abandoned, he seems to enter into his last stand. Bereft of friends, allies, he is seemingly facing his death at least. But then he is saved, by fire from heaven. Having realised that there are men “with spine” out there, willing to do the right thing and save those who can be saved, Riddick appears to come back to civilisation once more, thanking Johns before the credits roll. If there is a larger theme to the Riddick universe, it is that the animal side can be useful, but it can never replace your connection with humanity, something that is more necessary for survival in the long run. Riddick’s lost that connection on numerous times, but is always, always drawn back.

Connected to all of that is the theme of trust and co-operation. Santana’s crew and Johns’ crew don’t mesh well, coming together only when everything is falling apart. That lack of co-operation and trust leads to large scale casualties, and nearly the complete destruction of Santana’s group, all save the religious youngster. Johns’ group are a bit better, but only half of those four make it out alive.

Riddick is getting along just fine, to an extent, but only gets his chance to escape the planet by coming together with Johns and his people. Johns appears to abandon Riddick when he’s slowing him down, but comes back from him in the end, the reverse of Santana’s more self-interested style of doing things. Riddick hammers home on that point again and again, as do the other movies in the franchise: working together is the way to go. It may not be done in the same kind of outward, positive way that Pacific Rim did it, but it’s still there.

Then there is the theme of monsters and bad guys. Who is the bad guy in Riddick? The apparent hero is a serial killer after all. Santana’s mercs are a collection of thugs and rapists, with only their youngest member apparently having any redeeming qualities. Johns’ group is better, but not much better, still cutthroat when they have to be, still willing to hand over Riddick to be decapitated once they’ve gotten what they need out of him. Is there a good guy in Riddick?

It’s that sort of movie, where everything is just the right shade of grey. Riddick is no hero, and he isn’t exactly a villain either. That role is left for the scorpion beasts. Everyone in Riddick is, by the end, just trying to make it out alive, and are willing to do what they have to – in their own interest like Diaz, or working together like Johns – in order to achieve that goal. They face literal monsters, but also have to overcome some of their own internal monstrous natures, whether it is Riddick’s disconnect from humanity or Johns’ single minded obsession to find out what happened to, and revenge his son.

There is also a brief theme explored about the search for home, which is a small, but important part, of the Riddick character. Riddick tires of his life as the Lord Marshal, haunted by his previous explorations of his lost ancestry (you’ll have to look up the director’s cut of Chronicles for it I’m afraid). He seeks Furya, bartering away his position for it, but is betrayed and left stranded on a place that is, most definitely, “not Furya.” He comes to accept and even grow fond of his new home, turning his back on the man he temporarily was – the man with a destiny connected to his home planet – but is dragged towards it again in the end. As he flies off into space, one cannot help but surmise that he may continue looking for Furya, though what he might find there is only in the minds of Twohy and Diesel.

Another good CGI offering is Riddick canine companion which lifts some of the burden of carrying the film from Diesel in early stages.

Another good CGI offering is Riddick canine companion which lifts some of the burden of carrying the film from Diesel in early stages.

Lastly, because I mentioned it a few times, I thought that I would briefly bring up the theme of sexual power. The depiction or discussion of sex in Riddick is always in a violent or weaponised sense. Riddick indulges his lusts with a cavalcade of Necromonger women. Santana keeps a sex slave on his ship, who he casually shoots dead when he’s done with her. Dahl must put up with repeated sexual insults and one attempted sexual assault. Riddick treats Dahl as just another conquest for him.

I suppose I was just truck by how Riddick just kept coming back to that, treating sex in a negative light, as something to be used against someone, solely for the dominant party’s own pleasure, as a put down on the submissive party.

So I move towards a conclusion. Riddick is a decent continuation of the franchise. It’s obviously reached back and aped Pitch Black a fair bit, but I suppose that the director and the star, desperate to keep this story going, have simply tried to re-apply what worked well before, critically and commercially.

I would wonder where Riddick can go from here. In the event of Riddick: Tokyo Drift or its equivalent, what can be done to freshen things up? Another Pitch Black style scenario would certainly cross the line into overly-stale territory and signal a death knell for the franchise that would probably be unrecoverable from. The epic science fiction thing has been tried with Riddick and (sigh) failed for the most part.

We’ve seen plenty of Riddick as the grizzled killer, fighting back alien menaces while trying to deal with a group of survivors, be they crash victims or mercenaries. We’ve seen him try and be some sort of new sci-fi anti-hero taking on galaxy wide threats.

What’s next? What’s the plan? Is there some sort of middle road that can be trod between these two things, or a completely new direction to send Riddick in?

I really can’t answer that question. While I was entertained and engaged enough by Riddick to state that I would give another movie a shot, I find myself fairly certain that it would only be a disappointment to me, whether it would be retracing old ground, or dying a painful death as Chronicles did.

But I digress. Riddick, on its own merits, is an enjoyable experience. It captures some of the essence that made Pitch Black great, while just about avoiding being a rip-off of that horror/sci-fi classic. Vin Diesel is, as ever, great as the main character, and it features excellent locales and CGI. The wordplay is lacking, the supporting cast struggles just a little and women are treated pretty abysmally, but Riddick still works for me. A suitable addition to the franchise and probably the best science-fiction film I have seen this year. Highly recommended.

It's familiar nature is, perhaps, a sign of the franchises lack of longevity, but Riddick is still an entertaining sci-fi film.

It’s familiar nature is,, perhaps, a sign of the franchises lack of longevity, but Riddick is still an entertaining sci-fi film.

(All images copyright of Universal Pictures and Entertainment One)

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2 Responses to Review: Riddick

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Had a fun time with this movie, even if it was very dumb. Nice review.

  2. Pingback: NFB’s Film Rankings And Awards 2013 | Never Felt Better

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