Review: The 'Riddick' Series Survives with an Entertaining New Entry
by Jeremy Kirk
September 6, 2013
It's hard to blame writer/director David Twoy for how similar Riddick feels to its original predecessor. It's been an odd turn of events for the Vin Diesel-led series. Riddick is a return to form found in Pitch Black, the much darker horror/action film that introduced us to the sadistic killer in the distant future, much different from the blockbuster epic 2004's follow-up, The Chronicles of Riddick, failed to be. Twohy went a little Star Wars there for a minute, and the general hatred towards that second film was enough to make a film maker wince. Riddick is every bit the B-grade entertainment Pitch Black delivered and more.
Giving the fans of the character exactly what they want, Twoy latest screenplay now strands Riddick on a barren wasteland of a planet. Even before the opening credits, the hunted murderer from a planet of warriors has been betrayed and abandoned by the army of death-dealers he inherited at the end of Chronicles. Now stuck on a planet full of all manner of ways to kill you, Riddick once again finds his animal instincts and, once again, proves he knows how to use them. That surgical work on his eyes that allows him to see in the dark comes in handy now and again, as well.
But after an unspecified amount of time surviving on this planet - long enough to raise a young jackal-like creature as his pet and companion - Riddick learns the creatures living in the dirt underneath are about to awaken. He needs a quick way off, and what better way for a hunted man to get retrieved than to let the world know where he is.
The writer/director proves right from the start of this third film that he's learned from the mistake of a bloated, convoluted mess of a sci-fi blockbuster. What worked best for Pitch Black was how minimal the budget was, how few characters we were watching attempting to survive alien attacks, and how simple the whole thing was. Riddick takes that simplicity, maybe it's brainlessness, and charges with it to the end zone.
After two ships carrying bounty hunters - including one led by a creepy-yet-hilarious Jordi Mollà - land on the ruthless planet, the film twists away from Riddick's survival and becomes a cat-and-mouse film. Among the alien horror and incredibly bloody violence, Riddick's basic structure runs through a similar course as Pitch Black. The first half centers on a small group searching for Riddick, while the second half, when the lights go out - or, in this case, the rains sweep in - is where the animals outside try to get in.
We're even given a whole slew of colorful characters, more than a few of which seem to be carbon copies of the secondary characters from Pitch Black. Katee Sackhoff could not be playing meaner here, but her character, especially her look, is a clone of Radha Mitchell's original character. There's a religious character off of whom Riddick bounces questions about where his God is, not that the film needs more reasons for the character to revisit lines of dialogue from Pitch Black. There's even a family member of a Pitch Black character who brings an interesting drama to the table.
Despite being so similar it hurts, Riddick ends up saving itself by being an absolute blast of entertainment. Twohy fills that space that feels so similar with cartoonish characters that never fail at making you laugh and action that has an impact. The same plot beats Pitch Black are on a grander scale here, the presence of more polished CG creations giving the whole thing a brighter and generally less serious vibe. The incredible stunt work on display must also be mentioned.
Some of the story development from a series viewpoint is weak. Vaako (Karl Urban) and the group of Necromongers who have betrayed Riddick are only touched upon, something that has no resolution and only seems present to set up a fourth film. For that, and for a few other reasons that won't be divulged here, Riddick's ending is a big letdown. The imagery the director brings out with what transpires is pretty awesome, but the resonance and pacing of how it plays out is awkward to say the least.
Still, Vin Diesel once again stepping into this role keeps that awkwardness somewhat at bay. The action superstar may not be the go-to guy for nuance or strong emotional range. The same could be said for Jason Statham. What each of these men do, though, and what Diesel has absolutely captured with Riddick is that sense that he is the baddest man on the planet. Any planet. No matter who or what comes after him, he's always coming out on top, and the other guy is definitely getting carried out. The time or two Diesel is still able to make you chuckle keeps him from ever being too menacing.
Riddick is exactly the movie fans of the character wanted, and it's precisely the shot in the arm the series needed. As Riddick notes in his voiceover narration this time around, he got soft. That could very well be David Twohy commenting on the PG-13, Summer-friendly detour the character took with that second film. Like Pitch Black, Riddick is violent, straight-forward, and satisfying to fans of impressive sci-fi action. Here's just hoping Twohy, and Riddick, stay that harder course when it comes time for that fourth film.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10
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