Movie Review- Riddick

In 2000, the world was introduced to Vin Diesel in the cult sci-fi/horror film, “Pitch Black.” Diesel played a murderous convict by the name of Riddick, whose incredible skills and feral instincts allowed him to survive almost any situation.  It was a fun (if shallow) thriller that took a little too much inspiration from James Cameron’s 1986 film “Aliens,” although it brought in considerable numbers at the box office. Four years later, the sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), was a spectacle of needlessly complicated mythology and hilariously bad acting. Box office results showed that very few were clamoring to see more of the goggled space killer, but Diesel and director David Twohy (who directed the previous installments as well) have proven to be impressively persistent with their nine-years-in-the-making sequel, “Riddick.”

Five years after the events of Chronicles, the title character (Vin Diesel) finds himself discontent with being the ruler of the Necromongers, a religious sect Riddick inherited for killing its previous leader.  Longing for his home world of Furya, Riddick requests to be taken there.  Upon arrival (at “Not-Furya”), the Necromongers double-cross him and leave him to die, wounded and lost on a desolate, unnamed planet.

Over the months, Riddick slowly heals and learns to live with the wildlife of the planet, before coming across a small compound in the middle of the desert. He activates the computer systems in the compound and sends out a signal that draws two squads of mercenaries to the planet. One of the mercenaries is Boss Johns (Matt Nable), the father of one of the victims from the first film, who seeks out Riddick to learn exactly how son passed. Riddick single-handedly kills several crew members and tries to intimidate the others into letting him command one of their ships.  His plans are interrupted by a storm that bring a swarm of deadly alien creatures that can only live where there is darkness and moisture.  As the storm grows nearer and the monsters become more restless, Riddick must form an uneasy alliance with Johns and the surviving mercenaries if there is any hope of repairing the ships and evacuating the planet.

Director David Twohy initially planned “The Chronicles of Riddick” to to be the first in an epic trilogy in the style of “The Lord of the Rings” (making “Pitch Black” equivalent to “The Hobbit”), where intricate story threads and characters would return in later installments to resolve themselves.  Since box office returns were not enough to justify its $100 million budget, a continuation was never allowed and many subplots and side characters were doomed to never be resolved. Unfortunately, this simply made “Chronicles” look incredibly convoluted and needlessly detailed.  After nine years of trying to get their passion project green-lighted, Twohy and Diesel have opted for a much smaller production this time, a reigned-in single-story narrative with no side plots or complicated sequel setup.  It’s a somewhat jarring (and perhaps a bit disappointing) transition for those expecting a true sequel to “Chronicles,” but it’s also a welcome return to “Pitch Black’s” simplicity.  “Riddick” is also a complete tonal break from “Chronicles’s” brighter PG-13 adventure, displaying a much rougher and darker (yet smaller) aesthetic than the second film’s “glossy blue” look.  With few references to previous installments, viewers need not see the entire series to understand what is happening in this installment: it’s very straightforward and closer to the easy-to-swallow mold of “Pitch Black.”

It must be said that the first act is easily the best thirty minutes in the entire trilogy.  The last two movies gave us very little about Riddick beyond his endless killing sprees being used as character development, but we finally see a new and more relatable side: the survivor.  In scenes evoking the best moments of Avatar (2009), we are shown surprisingly believable life forms that have adapted and evolved in a way that makes sense in the environment shown.  It’s loosely based on the fauna seen in our world, making it easier to connect to on a logical level, but it’s also foreign enough to be a very entertaining spectacle.  It’s an incredible far cry from the creatures that so blatantly ripped off “Alien” (1979) in the first installment in Twohy’s trilogy and a testament to how much the series has improved over the last decade.  All of this would mean nothing if Diesel couldn’t deliver his almost-silent 30 minute performance, and he pulls it off with near-perfection.  We finally see Riddick in a vulnerable state, making him much easier to root for.  I cringed at his pain and silently cheered on his victories, only because Diesel and the effects crew worked so hard to achieve near-perfection in making such scenarios seem so believable.  All of the best moments of the “Riddick” trilogy occur right here.  And then the second act happens.

As disjointed from the previous installments as “Riddick” is, the film is unfortunately inconsistent within itself as well: the first act is surprisingly engaging and enjoyable, but the lack of talent in the actors introduced in the second act makes it an absolute bore. The extras are simple caricatures meant to transition the viewer from one scene to the next and serve very little other purpose. Even more unfortunate is the fact that Diesel drops out of the movie almost entirely, leaving the audience with a dead-on-arrival cast that revolves around shouting, cursing and wondering where the lead character is (just like the audience). There are attempts to make these characters interesting, but not enough to raise them above the typical B-movie horror meat sacks set up for slaughter.  Only when Diesel’s presence is hinted at does the movie become slightly more interesting, but even then, it’s usually simple running, gunning and screaming before settling into more aimless jabbering.

Riddick is brought back in the third act with a new threat that forces all sides to join up, and it’s in this act where the film, at last, finds its direction. We are still given less of Diesel than one might hope, but the nonstop action and violence (and a few decent character-building moments) brings this film back up out of the muck. One of the side characters is finally given some true depth and Riddick’s character is finally made a somewhat likable action movie hero, instead of the bland heroic psychopath we’ve seen in the last two films. There are some groan-worthy clichés and some unintentionally laughable line delivery along the way, but awesome visual set pieces and a satisfying resolution makes the last 30 minutes or so worth one’s time.

Can a single bad act of a film, sandwiched between two good ones, bring down an entire movie?  If it doesn’t, it’s still crippling. There is greatness to be found in the Riddick saga, but this latest attempt doesn’t quite fulfill that potential. I love the concept, and this film (unlike the other two) has taught me to love the lead character as well. In three movies, David Twohy has still yet to turn a nifty idea into anything truly special. With “Riddick” already having earned back half its budget his weekend,I, for one, hope they can give it another try, because I really want to see this world and the character reach their true potential. In the meantime, it’s just okay.

I give Riddick a 2.5 out of 5.



About Brady Gorman
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