I found myself in a weird quandary when I got excited for another Riddick film. I couldn’t really remember why I was excited. Yes, he’s a total badass in Pitch Black, but The Chronicles of Riddick was kind of sucky. Then I remembered that despite it sucking the character of Riddick was still completely awesome and this was confirmed 100 percent by both his animated outing, Dark Fury, and the Riddick games, Escape from Butcher Bay and Assault on Dark Athena. Basically, the character of Riddick can make even suck not suck.
And now he’s back! So I was clearly excited because there aren’t too many great badasses left in film. Just straight up anti-heroes who belch one-liners and kill with almost no compunction. That’s the Riddick I got excited for and it’s the one I hoped to see again on the big screen.
Director: David Twohy
Release Date: September 6, 2013
So here’s the thing. There’s going to be a lot of complaints in the following review because Riddick has a bunch of flaws. What you have to remember, however, is that just like with Chronicles, when Riddick is being Riddick the movie delivers. Also, this is way better than Chronicles.
In fact you can pretty much completely forget Chronicles because that’s what Vin Diesel and series director David Twohy want you to do. Other than a cameo from Karl Urban and a bit of action explaining how Riddick is no longer king of the Necromongers the movie wants to completely ignore its predecessor — and that’s smart. There’s a less than subtle metaphor for stripping away the previous movie then it’s right into what could be called a remake of Pitch Black. See the planet that Riddick is stranded on this time around has these horrible creatures that live in muddy soil, so when a huge storm cloud comes in, blocks out the sun and drenches the planet they basically swarm the place.
Riddick, of course, has a plan to get off the rock, which is to trigger a mercenary beacon, have the mercs come to the planet to capture him and then take one of their ships. Two teams of mercs arrive, one a rag tag group of scum and the other an organized team led by Boss Johns (Matt Nable) and including Dahl (Katee Sackhoff). The middle section of the film, where Riddick is killing of mercs and terrorizing the living ones is exactly what you’ve been craving from Riddick. He’s an utter badass through this part and delivers some lines that are fantastic. When he’s eventually caught by the mercs his imprisoned barbing with his captors is particularly fantastic.
Unfortunately the beginning and end of the film don’t hold up to the stronger middle. The opening, in which Riddick is alone on the planet learning to survive, is easily ten minutes too long. Establishing that Riddick is a badass and can kill things is not a 20 minute task, and the pacing for this section is far too slow leading the second two thirds of the film to feel like an almost entirely separate movie. It really should have been shaped up a bit more and the extra time given to the stronger parts of the film.
The beginning isn’t really the issue, however. The film’s conclusion falls unfortunately flat. Since we’ve spent so much time establishing Riddick on the world and then fighting the mercs once the monsters do show up it feels forced, especially since their motif is so much like Pitch Black‘s creatures. Obviously Riddick’s night vision is the reason they took the plot in this direction, since it’s what gives him the upper hand, but it’s a little too close to what we’ve already seen. That would have been acceptable, however, if the movie concluded a bit more satisfactorily. There’s no way to explain it without ruining the ending, but it feels almost character breaking in its turn of events, which is especially harmful since Diesel is obviously trying to establish a franchise… again. It’s just that the ending is more “Oh… oh… it’s over” than “Did not know who he fucked with.”
It’s still Riddick, though, and it’s routinely surprising how much that makes up for. Diesel, all gruff and jacked, is easily in his finest form with this character since all he has to do is nail one-liners. The rest of the cast is also on point with Jordi Mollà’s smarmy merc Santana being a great foil for both Riddick and James. Of course it’s Sackhoff who would really steal the show if Diesel didn’t already own it. Her blatantly homosexual character is nothing but kickass (except for an unfortunate moment at the end), leading one to hope she’ll return for future movies.
It might warrant mentioning that the plot is riddled with holes, but Riddick is one of those movies that you just don’t care that much about them. The entire experience has a pulp feel to it, like they’re channeling old science fiction serials. That really makes the movie feel a little old school and possibly a bit smarter than it is. The inconsistencies within the film mask a lot of that pulp feeling, though, and some of it is really just plain bad, but when that pulp meets the parts of the film where Riddick is being Riddick you remember why you got excited in the first place.