Riddick (2013) Review

Riddick Review

***POSSIBLE MILD SPOILERS***

The Chronicles Of Riddick* (encompassing “Pitch Black”, um, “The Chronicles Of Riddick” and now “Riddick”) are the closest thing we’ve currently got to the pulpy, black and white Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials of the 30’s and 40’s, so it’s with that narrator’s voice that I want you to read the next sentence…

The last time we left our hero, he had inherited the leadership of the feared Necromongers, a warrior race who resembled the militarized wing of The Sister Of Mercy fan club, and had saved the universe from certain doom. Now, we re-join Lord Marshall Riddick as he leads his Necromonger forces…well, actually we don’t.

Most sequels, especially those to surprise sleeper hits like “Pitch Black” seek to add to the mythology and expand the fictional universe. No matter how uneven it turned out, nobody can deny “The Chronicles Of Riddick” did that with gusto. But “Riddick” may be the first time I’ve ever encountered a sequel that is actively trying to subtract from the mythology.

The film opens with Riddick left for dead on an unforgiving alien world and as he slowly battles his way back to the land of the living, we’re told in a cursory flashback how he spent five years as Lord Marshall of the Necromongers (and bedded some hot Goth chicks) but didn’t get round to reading their pamphlets on the afterlife let alone pledging his soul to the Underverse. Long story short, he makes a deal with Vaako (a briefly returning Karl Urban) to give up the Lord Marshall-ship in return for being taken to Furya, his long-lost home planet. Vaako, of course, betrays him and abandons him on this nameless world.

It’s a little undignified just how quickly all the dangling threads from “The Chronicles Of Riddick” are dumped and for a while, “Riddick” the film seems as lost and purposeless as Riddick the character, being satisfied to merely exist. However, after a brief period where the film becomes “One Man And His Dog” as reimagined by Cormac McCarthy, the approach of a spectacular rainstorm brings with it the real plot of the movie. Riddick finds an abandoned outpost and announces his presence in a distress call designed to lure bounty hunters to the planet, thereby enabling him to escape and resume the search for Furya.

Writer/ Director Twohy and Diesel clearly want to bring Riddick back to his “Pitch Black” roots but this ‘Just For Men’ outing doesn’t have enough of the first film’s lean, propulsive storytelling or engaging characters and “Chronicles” peeled away too much of the mystery and mystique around Riddick for him to work as an enigmatic anti-hero. Instead, we have a mishmash of the escape from Crematoria from “Chronicles” with the creature feature survival horror of “Pitch Black”.

For much of the second act, Riddick himself plays the role of the nameless horror in the dark and we spend most of our time with the bounty hunters. Unfortunately, they’re not a particularly interesting bunch to hang out with, despite an intriguing link all the way back to the first film, and once Riddick starts picking them off one by one, you’re not just relieved – you’re wishing he’d hurry up. By the time Twohy and Diesel metaphorically and narratively bring the rain I was, to be honest, a little bit bored.

I love that Riddick is a personal passion project for Diesel, and it’s his devotion to it that allowed this modestly budgeted sequel to be made. In effect, Universal gave him this in return for his continuing to make “Fast & Furious” money-spinners for them. However, they were never going to give Twohy and Diesel the kind of cash they splurged on “Chronicles” and it shows. Despite some location shooting, much of the action looks like it was confined to a sound stage and despite the best efforts of Twohy, it shows. It reminded me of the “planets” visited week-in, week-out by the crew of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” before they got the budget to do actual location shoots. It’s nowhere near as obviously fake as those sets but there are any number of shots where you can tell the expansive vistas are really just matte paintings and/ or GCI backdrops.

But if cutting those corners meant getting the film made, I’ve got to admire the commitment to the character that filmmakers have. Diesel, of course, inhabits the role of Riddick with ease and his laconic, gravelly delivery delights whenever he is on the screen. Of the supporting cast, those who are slightly more than just cannon fodder, are given little to do. Main antagonist Jordi Mollà as bounty hunter Santana too often comes off as annoying rather than threatening while genre sweetheart Katee Sackhoff is given the thankless (and on one occasion topless) task of being the only woman to appear in the film for more than thirty seconds. Regrettably, the script treats her character in such a tasteless and gratuitously misogynistic manner that it sours the film. I think the intention was to underline just how awful some of the mercenaries were but when Riddick joins in with a quip or two, it jeopardises his status as the (anti-)hero.

By the time the credits roll, everyone you guessed will survive at the beginning, has done and Riddick looks set to continue his quest for Furya. And maybe that’s the fundamental problem with this chronicle of Riddick: it feels like filler; a whole film about Riddick escaping from a planet when it should have been the first act of a story where he finds his way back to Furya. The film doesn’t end so much as just stop. I hope Twohy and Diesel have enough passion left to beg, borrow and steal their way to making another Riddick film because as underwhelming as this entry was, I still like Riddick and want him, and me, to have closure. After all, any action hero who can trick a monster into eating its own intestines deserves one more chance, doesn’t he?

Score 6

6/10 

* – I’m only counting the films, not the animated features or the computer games.

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1 Comment

  1. sanclementejedi September 14, 2013

    Loved pitch Black but felt Chronicles was a bit over done. Glad to read this film gets back to basics even if the transition is awkward. nice write up. Looking forward to checking this out.

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