It’s been a long time since Richard B. Riddick, escaped convict and murderer, has been on our screens.
After being introduced in the 2000 sci-fi horror film “Pitch Black,” he returned in 2004’s “The Chronicles of Riddick” with a larger mythology and franchise ambitions. It was thought that the franchise was dead thanks to a poor box office return, but nine years later, and against all odds, Riddick is finally back.
Stripped back to the character’s basics, “Riddick” is in many ways a true sequel to “Pitch Black,” but the expanded universe of “Chronicles” is by no means ignored. With great dialogue and excellent visuals, “Riddick” proves to be highly entertaining while reviving an underrated series with an enormous amount of potential.
In “Riddick,” the title character (once again played by Vin Diesel) is abandoned by the Necromonger armada on a scorched, hostile world. Struggling for survival against harsh conditions and deadly indigenous life, his only means of escape is to activate a beacon — attracting the attention of mercenaries who want his head.
This is what a Riddick movie should be — dark, violent, funny and hugely enjoyable to watch. The story is very similar to “Pitch Black,” but it doesn’t feel at all like a product of lazy writing. Instead, writer-director David Twohy makes very deliberate visual and thematic references to “Pitch Black,” bringing the series back to what made that first movie so great. “Riddick” also directly continues and resolves plot points from “Pitch Black,” which is surprising but very welcome.
The mythology from “Chronicles” is not left behind, either; the ambitious ending of the last movie is dealt with through a short but awesome flashback sequence 10 minutes into the film (allowing Karl Urban to briefly reprise his role of Lord Vaako), and there are hints to the wider world and where the story could go in future installments. But what makes “Riddick” work is the fact that it’s pretty much standalone — it encapsulates everything that’s great about the character and the universe, and will hopefully bring in a new audience to restart the franchise’s heart.
Vin Diesel owns the role of Riddick. This is by far the best character he’s ever played; funny, bad-ass and mysterious, he is the definition of the sci-fi anti-hero. This is Diesel’s passion project, and it really shows in his performance — he just gives it his all. Jordi Mollà does a good job of playing a very dislikable mercenary, and Matt Nable is great as a character who is surprisingly significant to Riddick’s history.
Dave Bautista is okay as a mercenary called Diaz, but it’s only a supporting role (next year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” will be a better indication of his acting ability). Katee Sackhoff of “Battlestar Galactica” fame is a perfect choice to play Dahl, another tough mercenary, and although she is a little underused, her performance is the stand-out (aside from Diesel himself).
Visually, “Riddick” combines the saturated, visceral style of “Pitch Black” with the scale and effects of “Chronicles.” The sets are dirty and feel very real, giving the actors something to work with while grounding the heavy use of visual effects. The CGI is pretty stunning too, but it’s got a very clear sense of style and manages to feel unique while continuing the visual language of the previous two movies.
Also, the production design is terrific across the board, particularly the alien creatures.
Graeme Revell returns to score the movie, providing the perfect balance between new pieces of music and references to older themes from both “Pitch Black” and “Chronicles.”
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Unfortunately, the middle of “Riddick” slows down a bit too much, as the script focuses on the mercenary characters (most of which are given lackluster development). During these scenes, Riddick himself is regaled to more of a background presence. In a film called “Riddick,” this isn’t exactly ideal. The final act of the film is also disappointing, with action sequences that fall flat and a lack of a satisfying resolution that has impact (even “Chronicles,” with all it’s faults, had this).
Going back to the “Pitch Black” style was definitely a good move, but it almost feels like a missed opportunity. It’s so much like the first movie that perhaps it would have been better to take the gritty, R-rated approach of “Pitch Black” (as opposed to the fantastical mythology of “Chronicles”) and apply it to a larger scale story to explore the universe — something akin to the two “Chronicles of Riddick” video games, “Escape from Butcher Bay” and “Assault on Dark Athena.” This might have felt like less of a regression, pushing the character of Riddick to new and interesting places.
Also, while “Pitch Black” and “Chronicles” both featured prominent female roles, “Riddick” pretty much only has Katee Sackhoff’s character. As good as she is, everything feels overly macho, to the point where Dahl is considered a sex object by most of the characters in the movie.
Alongside the dry action scenes (they just aren’t as well-choreographed or exciting as the fights in “Chronicles”), there are one or two instances of dodgy visual effects, but nothing really major.
GIVING CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
Released by Universal Pictures, “Riddick” was directed by David Twohy from a screenplay by Twohy, Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell. It was produced by Vin Diesel, Ted Field and Samantha Vincent. It stars Diesel, Jordi Mollà, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Dave Bautista, Bokeem Woodbine, Nolan Gerard Funk and Karl Urban.