Even after nearly a decade, it’s impossible to keep a good, or bad depending on your point of view, man down. The quintessential anti-hero who rose to fame in the cult hit Pitch Black (2000) and to a lesser extend in The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) is here for another dose of movie action.
If the cliff hanging narrative reveals anything, it is the fact that this will not be the last time we see Vin Diesel in this role. Actor Vin Diesel, who stars and helped in the production of the film together with writer/director David Twohy are very invested in this project, which means that it would only take a modest amount of box office interest to warrant another helping. Riddick (2013) is a stand-alone film in the sense that it is not necessary to watch the past films to understand the plot, but those who have, will enjoy this movie more than those who haven’t. The opening scenes tie neatly into the conclusion to The Chronicles of Riddick, and without wishing to give too much away one of the antagonists is related to one of the characters from Pitch Black.
The narrative is broken up into three parts, and unfortunately each one is slightly less thrilling than the last. The first and absolute best part of the film follows the wounded and bleeding protagonist after he is stranded on a planet that is far from friendly. Fans of those survival shows on the Discovery Channel will certainly understand and appreciate these scenes. Riddick is visual feast to behold, especially in this first section. It is filled with beautiful brown and gold tones with a landscape that is both ominous and alien at the same time. There is one scene that looks very similar to a Frank Fazetta painting. For almost a whole half hour, we watch Riddick try to survive in this harsh environment on his own while dodging man-eating dogs, which are probably the most pleasant enhabitants.
The second part of the movie begins right after Riddick sets off a distress signal. This triggers some rather unpleasant bounty hunters to show up on the scene. In total there are nearly a dozen of them, but only a few that feature prominently in the rest of the film: Santana (Jordi Mollà), who is greedy and wants to see Riddick’s head packed neatly into a box. Next there is Johns (Matthew Nable), who wants the outlaw to be taken alive so he can answer some questions, and Dahl (Katee Sackhoff), Johns’ right-hand woman, who lets Santana know right away that she is not impressed with his advances one bit. The rest of the bounty hunters are for want of a better word; cannon fodder who each meet with a horrible demise, no spoilers here that’s pretty obvious from the outset. This movie is like a sci-fi version of Commando.
The final third of the movie is unfortunately not the strongest part. They try to create charcater bonding for the sake of survival which may have been more successful if it had been thought through more during development. There is certainly nowhere near the character interaction and chemistry that made Pitch Black such a cult hit.
Without wishing to give the ending away, it does feel a little rushed and it may have served the film better if the earlier sections had been cut down more to accomodate a more climatic finish.
Although there Riddick is at times over the top, Vin Diesel was born for this role his best in this film; even when he is in chains he is still the most intimadating character in the movie.
The success of the Fast & the Furious franchise is how Diesel managed to get the green light for this movie, a kind of pet project of his.
Coming in at a very reasonable $40M budget, Riddick made a profit without setting the box office alight. Given the limited budget the special effects are something to behold and no doubt given more money this could have been a truly beautiful film.
Stylistically and thematically Riddick is undoubtably a closer relation of Pitch Black than it is to The Chronicles of Riddick. It embodies an intense and dark atmosphere that is sprinkled with plenty of laughs.
In terms of characterisation, although Riddick is an outlaw he does have a strong set of rules that he lives by which is a contrast to those who are hunting him down who are driven by their greed and their own personal agendas.
Although for the most part Diesel carries this film some of the other actors also put in decent performances. Jordi Molla’s Santana is one of those characters that everyone loves to hate and you find yourself excited to see him get what’s coming to him. Matt Nable’s Johns is emotionally conflicted and you could almost stretch the calling him honourable at certain points in the movie. Katee Sackoff’s Dahl is a very tough female character in the vein of Ripley from the Alien franchise. She put on some extra muscle to add a bit of edge to her character.
Nobody could say that this is a truly great film, even the most staunch fans of the franchise like me, however it is a very entertaining sci-fi feast that sits comfortably between Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick in terms of quality; more leaning towards the Pitch Black end of the scale making this an all round solid movie and decent addition to the franchise.