Riddick isn’t something I’d recommend to the average man on the street. It’s not for everyone, nor is it really my type of movie. But, when viewed from the right angle, it’s an interesting look into the heart of an actor who pretends to race cars on film as his day job so he can afford to get down to the business of world building when he gets off work. In simpler terms, if you liked Pitch Black you’ll probably like this.
That’s not to say that Riddick doesn’t port over some of the chintzy patina of its PG-13 predecessor, The Chronicles Of Riddick, it does. But a return to R-rated waters and the wise (and budget conscious decision) to more or less keep the action limited to a single planet help the audience and filmmakers alike focus on what makes this character stand out, rather than blend him into something bigger and blander. Here, the blood can flow freely and the macho ethos and worldview of the Riddick character can reign supreme.
The film starts with a prologue detailing how Riddick became a king, and then got soft. With endless women, power and respect at his disposal – he forgets his internal compass. Via a few quick scenes, and some straight up gangsta voiceover narration (I’m serious – voiceover can sometimes be a weakness but here it becomes a defining look into Diesel’s character) we find out how he came to be stranded on the planet he calls “not Furya.” From there we’re off to the races, which means a somewhat inspired first act that evokes Cast Away to a surprising degree. We get a good solid half hour of Riddick surviving by himself, fighting mud scorpions and training giant dogs. This could have been the entire movie and I would have been fine with it.
Unfortunately, Riddick decides he’s been stranded long enough and signals a beacon that attracts two mercenary ships to a deserted way station on the planet, the idea being that he’ll be able to hijack one of them and escape. We quickly discover that the film becomes more rote with every character it adds to the equation. While the actors are colorful enough to make their roles pop (with Jordi Molla and Katee Sackhoff being standouts), their arrival drags the film down into standard action movie territory. Writer/director David Twohy struggles to maintain control over his mercs, with much of their banter and bounty hunting efforts oscillating between hit and miss territory. Sackhoff’s presence also teases out the film’s confused sexual politics, with the male characters constantly hitting on her and threatening (or attempting) to rape her. I can see how these threats would be organic to the situation, but the manner in which the film handles them – especially in its conclusion – reveals a tenuous grasp on tone.
Still, if you’re a fan of the character, there’s more here to enjoy than dislike. And knowing the sheer force of will it took on Diesel’s part to get this film made makes it even more endearing. Like it or not, this semi-independent production (picked up later by Universal) has a clear voice of authorship and vision that’s lacking from most summer blockbusters. Riddick might be a strange combination of Pitch Black, Chronicles and Jeremiah Johnson – but it’s also pure Vin Diesel. A force of nature and optimism that emerged from humble beginnings to become one of our most interesting action stars, it would be unwise to underestimate him. The same goes for this film.
Plus? The dog.