Riddick (David Twohy)
In Pitch Black (2000), also known as The Chronicles of Riddick: Pitch Black, antihero Richard B. Riddick – a convicted murderer whose eyes had been modified so he could see in the dark – fought off hordes of vicious flying shark-like shadow creatures on an alien planet while also battling the distrust and duplicitous behavior of his fellow crash-landing survivors. Though he lived to fight another die, most of the rest of the cast did not. The movie was actually great entertainment. It knew what it wanted to be – a monster movie set in space – and it fulfilled its genre role perfectly. Vin Diesel, star of such masterpieces as XXX, The Fast and the Furious, and Babylon A.D. (interesting note: did you know he was the voice of the Iron Giant in the lovely animated actual masterpiece The Iron Giant?), smartly underplayed the title role, and the design of both the planet and the monsters was spectacular (thank you, Grace Walker and Patrick Tatopoulos!). The supporting cast, including Radha Mitchell and Keith David, was quite strong. I am not ashamed to admit that I had a wonderful time watching the film.
The second film of the series – The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) – was less interesting, and much more of a mess, script-wise. Written and directed by the same man who had done the first film – David Twohy – the movie nevertheless managed to be more than watchable. I just wish that Twohy had either done more with the epic story of a death-loving race sowing destruction on planet after planet and the possibility that RIddick’s role in stopping the destruction had long been foretold, or that he had abandoned the portentous and pretentious storyline altogether and just stuck to monsters. As it was, we were left disappointed by the unfulfilled potential of the setup.
But now here comes Riddick – just plain ole RIddick – and the monsters are back. That is a good thing. We get a little bit of the plot of the second movie – right at the start – but then the film moves squarely back into the territory of Pitch Black. The planet and creatures may be different, but the story is familiar. And it works.
What works especially well is the 30 minutes or so of set-up after Riddick finds himself betrayed and abandoned by the Necromongers (the evil race of the second film). We watch him recover from horrendous injuries, train himself in his new environment, inoculate himself against poison, raise a local canine, and learn the lay of the land. When he sees a distant storm cloud approaching, it speaks to him (what does it say? you’ll find out …), making him want to leave the planet quickly. Coincidentally, just at that moment, Riddick has come across a rundown outpost with an interstellar communicator, and is able to call for assistance. Actually, what he does is to just send his identifying image out to known bounty hunters, knowing that they will be unable to resist the temptation of the huge price on his head. And so they come, and the movie shifts gears into a version (but a relatively fresh one) of the first film. Those who liked Pitch Black will be sure to have a grand time. If blood and violence (including a gruesome decapitation) are hard for you to watch, avoid Riddick at all costs, however.
I enjoyed myself. Again, as in Pitch Black, the film knows what it is, and doesn’t try to be more. Thanks to fine supporting performances from the likes of Katee Sackoff and Jordi Mollà, it has depth and resonance beyond Vin DIesel (who, as he has throughout the series, does a perfectly acceptable job as a musclebound tough guy). Unfortunately, there is some very stupid, misogynous and homophobic dialogue that accompanies the interactions with Sackoff’s badass mercenary, but at least, in this movie – *spoiler alert* – the main female character does not suffer the normal fate of a Riddick heroine. Finally, the CGI is the best of the series, including a very moving rendering of the dog-like companion that Riddick adopts.
Was it Riddick-ulously amazing? No. Was it Riddick-ulously fun? You bet. Was it crude and lewd? Absolutely. Incredibly lowbrow. Rock on. I saw it in IMAX. Ooooh. Since Twohy and DIesel purportedly have a master plan, we’ll most likely meet Riddick again. I’ll probably be there.