The Riddick series is pretty damn weird. The first film was a Sci-Fi horror film with action elements ( kind of like Aliens ). The second film is barely related and turns into Conan The Barbarian IN SPACE with a combination of Star Wars ” space opera “and Warhammer 40k–style gothic bleakness. So what did director David Twohy and screenwriters the Wheat brothers think up for the next installment? A variation of the first film. No, seriously, by the third act the film basically becomes Pitch Black ( 2000 ) again. To be honest, when I saw the trailers I thought Riddick was a remake of Pitch Black. This is an odd move on the writers’ part, since the scope of the series takes a HUGE step back in order to achieve this, taking a guy who ends up as the king of alien royalty and knocking him back to where he started in the first film. I presume this choice was a reaction to the less-than-stellar reception of The Chronicles of Riddick ( 2004 ) which arguably had an overly complex plot and backdrop that didn’t work that well for a standalone feature. Riddick seems to be attempting to reignite interest in the franchise by returning to its roots. But enough background, lets talk about the film itself.
The film’s plot begins where Chronicles leaves off: Riddick, King of the Necromongers, has become a controversial king due to not taking religious vows (with particular antipathy towards sexual abstinence). Feeling unwelcome on his throne world, he decides to venture to his home planet of Furya. In order to find it he enlists the help of Vaako from Chronicles (played by the always casually terrifying Karl Urban) who “surprisingly” double crosses him and has Riddick stranded on a random sun-drenched planet. Separated from civilization, Riddick has a baptism that turns him into a ” nature hero ” of sorts who overcomes his environment. But when a storm approaches bringing a threat even he can’t handle, he has to call upon bounty hunters in order to get off planet, with the obvious complications present.
Plot-wise, the film is straightforward yet with each act taking notable shifts in terms of focus. The beginning of the film is seemingly trying its best to acknowledge as little as possible The Chronicles of Riddick. Don’t let IMDB fool you, Karl Urban as Vaako is in ONE SCENE in the film and its just minor exposition. Once we get beyond the exposition, the first act unfolds beautifully as we see Riddick returned to the root of what made Pitch Black so enjoyable; casting a ” terrestrial ” narrative in a extraterrestrial backdrop. Pitch Black was about people being forced to work together in a disaster, the disaster just happened to be a spaceship crash on an alien planet. Riddick is important because he’s the most ” primitive “, giving him traits the others lack. Riddick begins with the titular character getting in touch with nature ( albeit a nature not of Earth ).
His goals at this point are simple; get food, get water, don’t get eaten by amphibious monsters. This film has a huge lessening of scope from the previous film’s grand narrative. It also reminds us how smart Riddick is: he has to create weapons for himself and figure out his to outsmart apex predators. This segment is reminiscent of the 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man, where a man gets an illness that causes him to shrink till he’s an insect’s size, putting him at odds with his previously mundane environment.
Eventually, the man is so small that he can no longer interact with other humans, and his own home becomes a gauntlet of challenges that must be overcome. The man is returned to a primal state of living, where his only goals at the end of the film are defeating the spider in his house ( seen above ) and getting a crumb of food, all the while his inner monologue shifting to acknowledge this changing of goals. This ” primitivizing ” allows him to rediscover his role in the universe as a living thing.
Similarly, Riddick, former Space King, is at odds with relatively ( at first ) low end threats that come from being outside of civilization. By facing these things, he remembers who he is and what makes him the badass he always was. Vin Diesel’s performance is really at its best in this act, we’re actually sold on Riddick being in dire straits. Upon being attacked by a monster, Riddick, lacking any weapon, stares at it soulfully as he contemplates what to do. Diesel manages to act through his CG’d eyes in order to depict Riddick as worried, which isn’t an easy feat. Later on, he pauses and winces tenderly as he braces his leg by screwing into it. This is a departure from the Riddick from Pitch Black who could dislocate his arms with barely a groan. Riddick doesn’t begin the film as an invincible hero, he’s a physically and probably mentally broken man.
The second act is also quite strong, albeit for different reasons. Instead of man vs nature, the film is again man vs man. Men have come for Riddick and a conflict arises between he and them and between themselves. At the head of this are two characters, bounty hunter Santana and a Marshall who’s name is a bit of a spoiler, wonderfully portrayed by Jordi Molla and Matt Nable.
Molli as Santana is captivating, vile, and pathetic. Recognizable from films such as Blow ( 2001 ) where he played Johnny Depp’s traitorous business partner, Molla is an expert at playing unsavory figures. His character reminds us of the weaselly breed of humanity that unfortunately populate the future of the franchise.
In contrast, Nable as the Marshall is very upright and authoritarian. Nable’s neutral yet assertive vocal performance makes him someone you trust, but know you shouldn’t fuck around with. The conflict between the two and how they lead is the primary conflict of the second act.
The secondary characters don’t have as much screen time as they did in Pitch Black, but they are still mildly interesting. Katee Sackhoff, famous for the Battlestar Galactica and Stargate series, appears as “Vasquez-from-Aliens” equivalent Dahl ( an unfortunate homonym as the only female character ). Her role’s pretty straightforward: token action girl who also builds sexual tension as the only woman in the film. For wrestling fans, there’s Batista, who is surprisingly charismatic as second in command to Santana.
The only character I didn’t like was the devoutly Christian Luna. I get why he’s there: like the Imam from Pitch Black, he contextualizes this universe as still being ours i.e. there are real religions present and not some “Crystal Dragon Space Jesus” ( which is part of the reason The Chronicles Of Riddick seemed so unrelatable ). With that being said, he lacks characterization beyond being a Christian and being a newbie; unlike the Imam from Pitch Black. He barely seems to have a connection to his own party, begging the question of why he’s in a violent mercenary band. Thankfully, he’s a relatively minor character. Overall, an interesting group of characters occupy the film.
The third act is yet another plot shift, a return to original film. Without giving much away, this portion will be pretty familiar; nothing too surprising happens. Not to say its BAD per se, it’s just expected. There’s a a nice elaboration on the first film’s conflict, which serves to make it a somewhat more productive reiteration of the first film’s third act.
And I came all this way without discussing action! It’s decent. I think the beginning scenes work well, primarily due to Riddick being more vulnerable than usual, since we realize his situation is dire. This element is lost in the second act where he returns to the perfect warrior of previous films, able to move noiselessly and launch projectiles with his feet. Once again, Riddick is set apart from similar action heroes by making him crafty, using tactics such as forcing his opponents to deactivate their sensors through annoyance rather than outright destruction and banking on their belief in his inhuman stealth skills to actually allow for laughably mundane methods. The third act’s action is to me some of the least impressive, focusing less on the tension present in Pitch Black and instead opting for the old hyper-violence. When viewed with Pitch Black in mind, however, we get a sense of progression for the character and his world view, as the other characters might not be what he assumes they are.
All in all, the film is enjoyable, if a little disjointed at times. You can tell that this film wanted to get back to what made the character so interesting and I for one think it succeeded. Go see it if you liked the first film, like Vin Diesel as an actor, or just want to see a matinee. Don’t see it if you want another film like the The Chronicles of Riddick, haven’t seen the first film, or would like a more fluid story than the one I described.