Back in 2000, a little movie came out called PITCH BLACK. It was a fun, B-grade, Sci-Fi/Horror film that featured a star making turn from Vin Diesel. He liked playing this character so much that he got the film’s director ,David Twohy, to make another one focusing just on his character, THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK. A lot of money was spent on that one and it was released amongst the summer blockbusters of 2004. The studios made Twohy tone down the film to a PG13 rating, and the movie suffers from it. I did like PITCH BLACK, but the second one was a little convoluted. It also flopped at the box office, so it appeared that the film’s cliffhanger ending would never be continued. But Diesel has used his recent resurgence (because of the new success of the FAST & FURIOUS franchise) to get another Riddick film greenlit. This time, he wanted to do it right. He wanted it to be dark, gritty, and definitely rated R. Twohy once again has returned to write and direct. Even though, I didn’t care for the second one, I still liked the Riddick character, so I was definitely curious to see what this film (“cleverly” titled RIDDICK) was going to be like.
Last time we saw the notorious futuristic criminal Riddick, he killed the leader of some alien race, and became the dude in charge. This one starts off with him stranded on an unknown planet. We later learn that he was betrayed by this race and they left him for dead on this planet. Whatever. All you need to know is that Riddick is on this strange planet populated by lots of deadly creatures. The first act of the movie is pretty much just Riddick trying to survive as he battles some water slugs, flying creatures and scorpion-like monsters. He even befriends a hyena/dog-type creature. In the second act, he finds a beacon and sends out a distress call to some bounty hunters, practically inviting them to come and kill him. He’s just doing this so he can steal their ship and take off. Two teams of bounty hunters show up. In this portion, Riddick is just in the background while the 2 teams fight with each other. The final act has Riddick teaming up with the bounty hunters to survive a rainstorm, which attracts several hundred of those scorpion creatures. But if they make it through the storm, will they let Riddick live? Not likely…..
Obviously, you don’t go to this type of movie for some deep meanings and Oscar-Caliber performances. You go for its over-the-top cheesy, R-Rated fun. And the film delivers exactly that. It knows what type of movie it is, and does it rather well. This is definitely more along the same lines as PITCH BLACK, as RIDDICK keeps the story relatively simple. It’s not needlessly complicated like the second one. It’s like this movie mixes the first film with the first 30 minutes of the second one (which had Riddick battling bounty hunters).
I would say the film’s strongest section is the first 30 minutes. The stuff when he’s surviving on his own against the planets elements is terrific, nerdy Sci-Fi /fantasy stuff. It’s nearly wordless, with most of the dialogue coming from Riddick’s narration. Twohy has crafted some nifty set pieces here. I loved the first encounter with the scorpion monsters and how he dispatches them. Some definite “film geek” moments there. And I loved the first shot of the movie, that has a bird-like creature pecking at a hand, sticking out of the ground. Then the hand grabs the bird. Great introduction to an iconic character. And that’s probably the best thing about this movie. Twohy and Diesel really do an effective job creating a legend for this character. Also in the first act is the friendship between Riddick and that dog thingy. It’s a CGI creation, but it actually looks pretty good. The relationship is surprisingly enduring and genuinely believable. I kind of wish the whole movie was just Riddick and his dog as they try to survive the planet.
But gears switch in the second half when the bounty hunters arrive. Now, this isn’t bad stuff. It’s actually kind of fun, but just not as engaging or cool as the first portion. All of the bounty hunter characters are walking clichés, but that’s why I found them to be so much fun. Of course they’re walking clichés! They’re supposed to be! The filmmakers and actors are well aware of this and play with the clichés. Everyone appears to be having fun, and for me that added to my enjoyment. These guys are tough-talking bad dudes with no redeeming qualities, and they’re a hoot. I especially liked Santana, who sexually molests women, hates animals and queers…. so he MUST be bad. That’s funny stuff. Soon as he was introduced, I whispered “I can’t wait to see how Riddick is gonna kill this guy” to my 10-year-old daughter (who loved the movie, by the way). And man, I wasn’t disappointed by the way he’s dispatched. The finale is better than the middle portion, as Riddick battles a horde of monsters along with some of the bad guys. The movie isn’t fast-paced, which works to the film’s advantage. But there’s enough action and violence to please its target audience.
The acting….. yeah…. it’s a Riddick movie. Of course the acting is going to be a giant cheesefest. What did you expect? All of the actors are fun to watch. But this is Diesel’s movie! He IS Riddick! Just a big giant bad-ass that can kill a man with his bare hands, as he growls and snarls through all of his dialogue. You can tell this is Diesel’s favorite character to play. This dude is pushing 50, but he still looks incredible. There is a flair in his performance that has been missing in his past few films. His enthusiasm about this character comes through on-screen. The other actors are just there for Vin to play off of. The standouts being Jordi Molla as Santana, and Katee Sackhoff as a member of the “good” bounty hunters. Also, what the hell is Bokeem Woodbine doing in this movie? Man, that dude hasn’t aged at all. I think he’s a robot. He doesn’t have a lot to do, but he seems to be having a ball, as does everyone else. I would love to be in a movie where I can just pretend to be a bad-ass.
The direction, especially for this type of material, is top-notch. Twohy knows how to craft an action set piece and to build tension slowly. The film’s earlier scenes is probably the best work he’s ever done. Now, even though this film cost about 80 million less than the second movie, the special effects are quite good. They may not be the best I’ve ever seen, but there weren’t any moments that I thought they looked horrible. I really thought all of the creature design work was really well done. The spaceships and hover bikes were also really awesome. I thought they made good use of the R-Rating too. There’s some great gory moments, but it’s never gratuitous. It’s just a lot of fun. The script isn’t anything special, but it’s all so well executed. The story borrows heavily from other Sci-Fi/Fantasy films (ALIENS, DUNE, HEAVY METAL), but it does so out of love. The dialogue is full of cheesy one-liners that made me smile. I couldn’t believe it when Riddick said he was going to go “Balls deep” in Sackhoff’s character. It’s so chauvinistic, but it still cracked a smile out of me. It’s refreshing to see something that’s not that politically correct, and is striving nothing more than to just be an entertaining popcorn movie. The score by Graeme Revell is also really cool.
If I had one complaint about the movie, is that I wish that it would’ve been more of a stand alone film instead of trying to tie it together with the first two. The flashbacks are inserted into the narrative forcefully, I thought. It was unnecessary in my opinion. But it definitely didn’t ruin the movie for me. If you liked the first 2 Riddick films (or even just the first one), I am willing to bet that you’ll get a kick out of this one. And even if you’ve never seen the first 2, but you still love R-Rated Sci-Fi/Fantasy, I’d still recommend it to you. RIDDICK is a fun, old-school, nerdy , R-Rated, Sci-Fi action film that succeeds at being an entertaining and well crafted B-movie. If that kind of think floats your boat, then I wouldn’t hesitate to check it out. And make sure that you see it in IMAX!!! It looked amazing! ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual content/nudity.
– Running time: 1hr 59min.