– Summary –
Director : David Twohy
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Vin Diesel, Jordi Molla, Matthew Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Bokeem Woodbine, Dave Bautista, Raoul Trujillo, Conrad Pla, Karl Urban, Nolan Gerard Funk.
Approx Running Time : 118 Minutes
Synopsis: Riddick, the wanted convict, finds himself trapped on a desolate planet, pursued by two groups of bounty hunters intent on claiming the price on his head.
What we think : Back-to-basics sci-fi entry for Vin Diesel’s Riddick character, reprises a lot of the thematic material from Pitch Black, and offers some nice gore, thrills and effects (especially considering the budget this film was made for), yet never becomes its own entity. Riddick will never win over any new converts, but for fans of the franchise, it will do enough to warrant (hopefully) a sequel.
Return to the animal side.
Way back before anybody knew his name, Vin Diesel appeared in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (in which his character met an early death during a town siege), before starring in a low-budget sci-fi actioner entitled Pitch Black. As one of the lucky ones who caught Pitch Black in cinemas (really, DVD and BluRay do not do that opening spaceship crash justice), we saw a Hollywood action star in the making. Diesel had the look, the screen persona, and the “it” factor in Pitch Black – you knew he was going to go places. Now, some 13 years after Pitch Black saw the lovable anti-hero Riddick escape near certain death, Vin Diesel returns in the third installment of the “Chronicles of Riddick” franchise, following original sequel Chronicles Of Riddick in 2004. Diesel’s lesser franchise (his biggest to date is the Fast & The Furious series) is by no means less entertaining, in a pulp-centered, sci-fi kinda way, relishing in its cliche and B-movie style, and the hands of mastermind (ha!) David Twohy. Where the Furious films put Diesel in amongst an ensemble, in the Riddick films (at least in the sequel and now this one) he’s the star all on his own. And while one could never claim Diesel is a talented actor, or even an A-list star in his own right, his ability to carve a niche career making these kinds of movies is commendable and astutely bankable; a lot like Jason Statham’s career, you know what you get when you sign up to watch a Vin Diesel movie. What, then, do we make of Riddick, the latest attempt to build the franchise and give Diesel another platform to remain in work, outside of the Fast & Furious films? Is Riddick more like Pitch Black, or is it more like Chronicles Of Riddick, the overblown, overproduced mess that did little to drag audiences into the theater?
Riddick, now commander of the Necromonger fleet, finds himself drawn to returning to his home planet of Furya; betrayed by Commander Valko (Karl Urban, reprising his role from The Chronicles Of Riddick), Riddick is left for dead on a barren wasteland planet, injured and barely able to fend for himself. The planet’s local wildlife, a race of wolf-like creatures, pursue him across land, while in the water lurks monstrous scorpion-esque creatures. Riddick, locating a research outpost nearby, activates a distress beacon, which – after scanning him and broadcasting his whereabouts to the galaxy – provokes two mercenary ships to arrive to collect the bounty on his head. One, led by the cruel Santana (Jordi Molla), are a rag-tag bunch of thugs and low-life’s, while the second, led by Boss Johns (Matthew Nable) is on a quest to find out more information on the fate of William Johns (the morphine-addicted mercenary from Pitch Black). As Riddick plays cat-and-mouse with both groups, who squabble over the rights to Riddick’s bounty, and the stakes are increased after Riddick buries two essential power-packs for the vessels, danger lurks in the form of an oncoming rainstorm, one which brings with it a nasty, terrible fight for survival.
In amongst its F-bomb riddled-script, and bloody, gore soaked shenanigans, Riddick does something very right, and then something very wrong. It quickly dispense with the Necromonger storyline from Chronices Of Riddick, bringing our (anti)hero back to his best hunter-gatherer form, before coming to its low-key conclusion by putting him back into that world again. Ugh. Riddick’s sojourn into the Necromonger arc was one of the more hard-to-swallow pills of Chronices Of Riddick, and just when you think that stuff is going to be jettisoned in favor of a return to Pitch Black’s “isolation” narrative, Twohy brings things to a close by returning to that dry, bitter well of ideas. In the midst of this, however, is a gangbuster sci-fi actioner with style and ideas to burn. It’s only a pity most of them are reprized from Pitch Black.
Riddick’s key running plot thread is the mercenaries’ inability to understand just how dangerous their prey actually is. I don’t mean the creatures abounding on the planet in the film, I mean Riddick himself. Powered by Vin Diesel’s rumbling, muscular portrayal of the title character, the film spends a lot of its time making sure the audience knows just how dangerous, resourceful and altogether unstoppable Riddick is; he’s kinda like an intergalactic MacGuyver Ninja (if there is such a thing), using stealth and items at hand to create weapons and methods of achieving his goals. Riddick’s prime mission in this film is to escape the rock he’s stranded on, and intends on using one of the mercenaries ships to do just that. Naturally, the mercenaries have other ideas, and thus the cat-and-mouse game begins between the two opposing forces.
Vin Diesel is cool as Riddick. He knows the character, he’s a solid screen presence, and although Riddick seems to spend more time grunting and killing than he does chatting to pass the time, he’s always watchable. Diesel’s co-stars are, in a surprise to me at least, equally up to the challenge of giving this B-movie some convincing weight – Jordi Molla hisses and snarls his way through the role of Santana, the cruel and vicious merc leader, while Matthew Nable brings an almost-noble sense of righteousness to his role of Boss Johns – although it must be said Nable looks barely older than actor Cole Hauser, who played Boss Johns’ son in Pitch Black some ten years earlier. Battlestar Galactica star Katee Sackhoff, as the Riddick equivalent of Aliens’ Vasquez here, Dahl (which sounds a lot like “doll” most of the time, in an ironic twist), gets a lot of the film’s best character moments, as the only woman. Her ongoing bickering with Santana elicits the most chuckles, as does her refusal to conform to a male-dominated world. The rest of the cast are simply secondary cannon-fodder, designed for expendable kill-shots between Riddick’s traps, and the creatures on the planet eventually attacking. Bit-roles to Bokeem Woodbine and WWE star Dave Bautista provide muscular presence but little character.
Riddick is interesting in what it achieves for the budget it was shot with; made for a reputed $38 million, the film could easily go up against some of 2013’s major blockbusters in terms of spectacle and accomplishment, and come away with its head held high. Sure, some of the effects in Riddick are terrible (the speeder-bike sequences in the latter third look dreadfully fake) but on the whole, the use of CG for backdrops and characters (the planet’s creatures are quite well done, if entirely CG-ish) is commendably competent. According to online reports, Diesel had to put his house up as collateral on finishing the film, so there’s at least no question of vested interest in making this film as good as it can be.
Riddick’s story isn’t original, nor is it particularly subtle or intelligent, meaning those looking for something different in their science fiction will probably need to go elsewhere, but the film’s adherence to the franchise’s established parameters will find much to enjoy here. A lot of the story feels recycled from Pitch Black (even the planet itself looks suspiciously like the one in the original film), coupled with the orange-tint smothering everything the light touches, mean the film never quite takes on a life of its own, which is disappointing, but Riddick’s sense of occasion and unique style more than accomplish what the bare-bones story and minimalistic characterization can provide. David Twohy gives the film much needed energy after a relatively sluggish beginning, with Diesel essentially an injured Robinson Crusoe styled character for the opening twenty minutes. Thankfully, the film also inhabits that hard-edged adult rating too, meaning boobs, blood, gore and foul language aplenty in what is a breath of fresh air in the otherwise fetid Hollywood landscape of bloodless, PG action.
Riddick invites the scorn of serious critics for refusing to be anything other than what it is – a B-movie tarted up with fancy effects and Vin Diesel’s growling performance. In eschewing Chronicles’ “I’m a major contender” for Pitch Black’s “under the rader” subversiveness, Riddick lacks originality but makes up for it in cheesy, outrageously hammy science fiction pulp grandeur. As a film it’s pretty average in terms of quality film-making, but what it does do, it does well, delivering the requisite enjoyment for the franchise’s legion of fans.