RIDDICKDirector: David Twohy
Cast: Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Jordi Molla, Matt Nable, Katee Sackhoff, Bokeem Woodbine, Dave Bautista, Conrad Pla, Raoul Trujillo, Nolan Funk, Keri Hilson
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Run Time: 119 mins
The second film ended with Riddick being crowned Lord Marshall of the Necromongers, but it’s a given that such good fortune wasn’t going to last. Riddick is betrayed by the Necromongers under his command and gets unceremoniously dumped on a wasteland of a planet. Riddick battles the elements and some unfriendly local fauna as two rival mercenary posses arrive to collect the bounty on his head. One is led by the swaggering Santana (Mollà), and the other by Boss Johns (Nable), who has a bone to pick with Riddick after the events of the first film led to a personal tragedy for him. Riddick plots to play both gangs against each other, so he can eventually escape in one of their ships – but the bounty hunters don’t intend on making it easy for him.
Talk of a third Riddick movie has swirled for years, and it must be very gratifying for star-producer Diesel and writer-director Twohy, who also helmed the first two movies, to see this come to fruition. The first film was a fairly original sci-fi suspense thriller and the second attempted to expand the world and was more of a space opera. The Chronicles of Riddick strayed too far from the essence of Pitch Black and also had a PG-13 rating foisted upon it by the studio. It should come as a relief that this one is definitely a lot closer in tone to the first, and might be even more hardcore, armed with an arsenal of blood-letting, swearing and nudity (in that order).
We’ve all heard the griping that sci-fi action flicks just aren’t what they used to be –compare the entertainingly zany balls-out adventure that was Total Recall (1990) with the recent lifeless remake. Riddick harkens back to that era of unneutered blends of sci-fi, action and horror, an effective mix of “protagonist marked for death” and “things that go bump in the night”-type movies. The somewhat bloated scope of the second film is pared down, the entire movie set on that one barren planet, while Twohy manages to make it less repetitive than the first. There are several nice continuity nods, especially with the character of Johns, but this does function well as a stand-alone flick and newcomers shouldn’t be lost. If you’re looking forward to seeing Karl Urban return as Lord Vaako though, bear in mind that his appearance amounts to nothing more than a cameo.
It’s easy to see why Diesel is so attached to this character – dude’s badass to the bone, the fact that his name can be rendered as “Dick B. Riddick” notwithstanding. The first fifteen or so minutes are essentially Man vs. Computer-Enhanced Wild, with the resourceful Riddick in full survivor mode. Diesel and Twohy wisely keep this from descending into a self-aggrandising vanity project. While Riddick still gets the lovingly-framed shots of him walking in slow motion, the cool action bits and enjoyable one-liners, he doesn’t hog the spotlight and we get to spend a good amount of time with the supporting players (more on them in a bit). A suspenseful, well-staged sequence involving an explosive lock showcases the character’s cunning, as does a nicely-edited scene in which he disables the robotic Cyclops sentry.
The two rival bands of hired guns who descend on the planet in search of Riddick do add an interesting dynamic. There’s nothing about these guys we haven’t seen before and some of them are difficult to distinguish from each other, but somehow, that never becomes a problem. Mollà’s Santana, all bravado and posturing and not much else, is amusing to watch – though he does sometimes border on grating. Nable’s Johns is hard-nosed and militant, but there’s just enough character there and he helps tie this film neatly back to the original – though at just three years older than Cole Hauser, he’s too young to play William Johns’ dad. Dave Bautista plays the giant bruiser (when does he not) but he’s certainly not as wooden as other wrestlers-turned-actors who came before him. Katee Sackhoff gets to break out the tough gal schtick she perfected in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series and is reasonably kickass.
Battle-hardened mercs bickering can get boring, so Twohy wisely keeps things moving just enough. The swarms of raptors in Pitch Black were fairly memorable beasties, and the venomous critters in this film benefit from the advancements in CGI over the last 13 years. The other species seen inhabiting this planet is more dog-like, and Riddick even grooms one into a pet, in a moment that might be too twee for some. While the production design is solid, there is less spectacle on display than in The Chronicles of Riddick, but this goes with the territory of bringing the franchise back to its roots. There’s a fun hover-bike sequence thrown in for good measure; one does get a kick out of seeing Riddick astride a futuristic hog.
Grim and gritty may be the action movie flavour du jour, but Riddick pulls it off better than others. Vin Diesel might not be regarded as the best actor around, but he’s passionate about the character and clearly enjoys strapping on those goggles. Backed by a small assortment of miscreants, Riddick ends up feeling much more like Pitch Black and might even be an improvement on that.
Summary: Long-time fans of Riddick’s exploits should take a shine to this third go-round that recaptures the tension and atmosphere of the first movie but doesn’t feel like a retread.
RATING: 4 out of 5 STARS