Vin Diesel's dark antihero Riddick is back almost ten years later. Is this a return to the form for the character like Pitch Black or a disappointment like The Chronicles of Riddick. Jeffrey Harris checks in with his official review of Riddick.
Directed By: David Twohy Written By: David Twohy, Oliver Butcher, and Stephen Cornwell Runtime: 118 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated R
Richard B. Riddick - Vin Diesel Santana - Jordi Molla Boss Johns - Matt Nable Dahl - Katee Sackhoff Diaz - Dave Bautista Moss - Bokeem Woodbine Lockspur - Raoul Trujillo Vargas - Conrad Pla Vaako - Karl Urban
Hell must have frozen over at some point. Because that had to be the only way that another movie in the Riddick movie franchise would ever get made after The Chronicles of Riddick came out and flopped in 2004. But here we are, almost 10 years removed from The Chronicles of Riddick, and it seems writer/director David Twohy and producer/star Vin Diesel managed to make Riddick by seemingly sheer force of will as well as a fervent and loyal fanbase. Diesel reviving his own stardom with his return to the Fast & Furious franchise probably didn’t hurt either.
In short, Diesel’s dark, badass antihero is back and this time the gloves are off. With The Chronicles of Riddick, David Twohy probably just bit off a bit more than he could chew. It also doesn’t help that with such a high budget the movie was forced to come in at a PG-13 rating. In fact, the idea of taking this dark, brooding killer from a low-budget cult sci-fi flick and putting him in a big budget science fantasy setting also seemed misguided. Making Riddick a Neo-like savior in a sort of Frank Herbert/Dune-type of story felt wrong. Riddick does seem to give this idea some credence though as at the beginning, the “clock is set to zero,” and Riddick is no longer the Lord Marshal of the Necromongers. In many ways, the opening act of Riddick comes off as just as much of a critique as it is a continuation.
At the beginning, the notorious Richard B. Riddick (Diesel) is left for dead on a desolate, arid planet filled with vicious predators that want to devour him. Riddick has been stripped down to nothing but his bare essentials: hits wits and his eyes that can see in the dark, which aren’t much help in an environment that is extremely bright. Physically he’s a wreck as his leg is busted with the bone protruding from the skin. While this story does put Riddick back to basics, it leaves the bigger issues set up in Chronicles open to return to later on. What started that and with Riddick getting left for dead in the first place was his new purpose in wanting to find his lost home world, Furya. Also notable at least is a token cameo by Karl Urban returning as Lord Vaako from Chronicles which sort of surprised me, though one appreciates the sense of continuity.
Soon Riddick realizes with a storm coming and a horde of vicious creatures coming along with it, he needs to get off world quickly. He activates an emergency beacon at an unused mercenary outpost which draws two teams of mercs to the planet: one led by the vicious and cruel Santana (Molla), and the other led by Boss Johns (Nable), who’s name probably sounds familiar to the Pitch Black faithful. And so Riddick pits himself in a human chess match against the mercs for the latter half of the picture.
Most of the mercs are colorful enough though they are cannon fodder for the most part. Katee Sackhoff is a ton of fun as a hard-nosed badass merc who has no problem flogging dudes that step over the line with her. Dave Bautista has a fairly decent role as Diaz, Santana’s second-in-command. I enjoyed Bautista’s fairly average-sized role, and he does dry-deadpan very well.
Some of the writing and dialogue is a little cheesy, corny, and over-the-top at times, but at least it does so in an entertaining, high-brow B-movie fashion rather than the awkward grandiosity that The Chronicles of Riddick couldn't really pull off very well. Granted, the final cut of that movie was gutted to hell and major plot points were completely removed. Diesel sells all of Riddick's one-liners and broody monologues very well and they are definitely one of the highlights of the film. Diesel's acting skills do get criticized a lot, but with his unique look and gravely voice, this is a character he's perfectly well-suited play.
The first two reels or so of this film are exceptional. It’s really just Riddick and the elements on alien home world and through this stripping down of Riddick and rebuilding him from the ground up is where Diesel and Twohy find the strength of this character again. Riddick is hard-R, budget science fiction of old, reminiscent of the early classics by James Cameron and John Carpenter. That gives this style of storytelling greater appeal than The Chronicles of Riddick despite a smaller budget and less resources.
What’s impressive about this movie being a lower budget is that while it does shoot things tighter there are a lot of benefits to this as well. For a lot of the stunts and action scenes, the camera focuses a lot more on Diesel where it appears to be him performing most of the action. The movie is very well shot with some great vistas, landscapes, and imagery that’s evocative of classic sci-fi novel covers and artwork.
The icing on the cake of course is the return of composer Graeme Revell who did the previous two movies. He does a very good moody, atmospheric score for the film, and he’s definitely one of the more underrated composers in the business having done great work on other sci-fi projects like the Dune miniseries.
With Vin Diesel having renewed his super-stardom and a story that's returned to its roots hopefully we can now see the path of Riddick continue, this time with a more focused sense of purpose and the hindsight of past errors. One hopes it will not be another 10 years before we see Riddick onscreen again, though I'm sure even in his 50's Diesel will still have a sculpted set of abs.
The 411: Riddick is a very well made, entertaining, hard-R, budget sci-fi movie. This is a nice return to the style of storytelling that made Pitch Black such a cool film to begin with. With this, one can hope it won't be another 10 years before Diesel gets to play this role again. But the feat of making Riddick itself after what happened with The Chronicles of Riddick does seem to be pretty spectacular.