Vin Diesel has never been “out” of action movies, what with the regular paycheck of the Fast And Furious franchise. Yet it’s been nearly a decade since he last portrayed the character that first got him major acclaim; the goggle wearing badass Riddick who was the break out character from David Twohy‘s Pitch Black. Diesel and Twohy later teamed up again to expand on the character and the universe he inhabits in The Chronicles of Riddick and an animated spin-off Dark Fury. Now they are both back to bring the character back to the big screen. The thing is, if you weren’t won over by Riddick in either of those films, this one is unlikely to change your mind.
When we last left space criminal Riddick, he’d assumed the leadership of the Necromonger empire. Since then, he’s been betrayed and left for dead on a no-name planet (something that even he notes happens to him a lot). After fighting to survive for a while, he finds the means to communicate with the wider cosmos. As a result, two mercenary teams turn up looking for him, one for the substantial bounty on his head, the other for more personal reasons. Riddick is ready for them and wants one of their spaceships; because he knows that there’s a very good reason to get off this particular world in a hurry…
It helps if you’ve seen the previous Riddick movies before this, because this makes little concession to newbies. The early part of the film does have the writing tie itself in knots to explain how the character went from becoming king of most the galaxy at the end of last film to being stranded here. (Interestingly none of the bounty hunters mention that whole “became an emperor” thing at any point; maybe he dreamed all that? It would explain a lot.) Crucially a big part of the plot revolves around the fate of one character from Pitch Black; even if you’ve seen that, you’re first reaction may be to scratch your head and go “oh, wait, which one was he again?” If you are planning to watch this, you may need to do a bit of research first.
Vin Diesel is a fine action star, with a lot of charisma and some of that shows through in here. The thing is, Riddick really isn’t that interesting of a character to base a movie around. He was the stand out in Pitch Black because there he worked well with an ensemble cast, when no one, audience nor characters, knew if they could trust him. But that dynamic doesn’t work when it’s made clear from the title he’s unambiguously the main character to root for. Riddick’s just a bit of a selfish git who, even when not killing guys directly, gets a whole bunch more killed bringing them straight into mortal danger just to save his own neck. He gets some good moments of vulnerability at the start, and these work well, but the rest of the time, he’s so blasé about things it makes it hard for us to care when he doesn’t seem to. Furthermore someone should tell Hollywood that giving your lead a dog doesn’t automatically mean we’re going to empathise with him better. Actually, that doggie does end up being the most likeable character given the rest are such a flat, unlikeable bunch; no chance of getting that group dynamic back then.
The tone of this movie is pure ‘80s style, macho, action cheese. From the almost cartoonish lengths they go to make lead bounty hunter Santana (Jordi Molla) seem as evil as possible, to make it OK for Riddick to go Jason Voorhees on him and his crew, to the deeply problematic way the film treats its female characters (Katie Sackhoff, you deserve better than this.). This is like Manborg, only without the self-awareness of how stupid it all is. It has no good answers to its many plot holes like “why does an utterly ruthless and evil mercenary have a wimpier Christian than Ned Flanders in his crew?”. It’s not helped by the acting, which range from a cameoing Karl Urban completely phoning it in, to Molla devouring the scenery with an almost unintelligible accent.
On top of everything else it’s just dull and feels padded out, with some sections that would make good tension drawn out that little bit too long. The trailers promise a full on Pitch Black-esque monster rampage but that’s subdued and only in the last twenty or so minutes. It also does feel like a massive step backwards, after the huge space opera of Chronicles to do Pitch Black again, only with rain instead of an eclipse. That being said, the creature design is excellent and creative but the special effects overall are variable, with some looking like they’re not even finished properly.
That sums up a lot about this film; it all feels pretty under baked. It’s like the filmmakers just threw a load of scraps of the other two films together, put in the oven for what they thought would be long enough and served it hoping for the best. There’s simultaneously too much and too little story, it’s trying too hard to be a testosterone-fuelled action piece and there are some very dodgy morals. As for the monster movie segment, the scariest thing in the whole movie is the logo for production company One Race at the start. Given the film’s overly abrupt ending you suspect there may have been a tweak in the edit to cut to the chase. This would be the point to say “for die-hard Riddick fans only”, but a) it’s barely even that good, b) most would be getting a big sense of déjà vu from parts and c) are there any?